Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Harold Bloom’s demons


At 85 Harold Bloom divined the demon:
Thinking each poet had one.  Tormented
By not knowing the source he saw the poets
Selling their souls for handfuls of beautiful
Words.  If we’re all alike, and why shouldn’t
We be, and he can’t create poetry
An external force must spring forth

Like a swan upon Leda or Mercury
Whispering occult messages 
In the poets demented ears.
Mayakovsky hid himself away
In his cell-like room until his
Mind cleared -- then when he looked out
His world was filled with glitter

Beckoning until he stepped outside,
Reached up, and grabbed some.  It
Might have been waiting there for 
Bloom too but instead he sought what
Could be turned, none of which
Contained as much gold as a poet
Needs -- pages in their books.

Saturday, September 26, 2015



Existence – you’ve taken it all
As you’ve proclaimed.  I suspected
Something of that kind out here
On the fringe of it, half in
Half out of nothing more than
A few thoughts about being –
Nothing to insist upon – not even

The knowing – the merest
Reflection only, something of
Someone else walking once with
Me near the ocean on a starry
Night holding hands.   I can no
Longer see her, but she looked
In the sea with me and shimmered.

The moon was there with us,
I’m almost sure.  Perhaps I dreamed
Or merely imagined a vague longing –
Taking her in my arms, inhaling her
Breath as I kissed her – just for that
Moment, then moving along, but
Don’t be alarmed – We left no trace.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Mayakovsky and his demon

In Mayakovsky's poem "A Man," in the subsection "The Ascension of Mayakovsky" is the following:
    "I myself am a poet.  You teach the children: 'The sun rises over the grass.'  From the love bed out from behind his hairlets rises the head of my beloved.

        She raised the arrow with her eyes.
        Wipe off your smile!
        But the heart rushes toward a bullet,
        and the throat longs for a razor.
        My grief grows
        into incoherent raving about a demon.
        He is coming for me,
         luring me to the water,
        leads me on to the edge of a roof.
        Around me is snow.
        A light snow falls.
        It whirls around and then stops still.
        And there falls.
        It whirls around and then stops still.
        And there falls
        -- again! --
        onto the ice
        a frozen emerald.
        My soul shakes.
        It's between the ice floes,
        and no way it can escape!
        That's how I'll go,
        along the banks of the Neva..
        I step forward --
        and again I'm in that place.
        I tear myself away --
        and again for nothing.

Mayakovsky eventually shot himself.  In his suicide poem found after his death the only reference to his motivation is to say "I have no other way out."  "The Man" was written in 1916-1917 and he committed suicide in 1930.  Perhaps the above section of poetry is a metaphor for the destructiveness of his relationship with Lilli.  In any case these were thoughts familiar to him.  He may well have considered suicide often before he actually did it. 

But why?  For the purpose of discussion take two poets, Geary and Helm.  Geary seemed in a triumphalist mood when he wrote "Without me perceiving  nothing would exist, not as far as I'm concerned anyway..  What is has no meaning except what I give to it. I am the meaning giver.  Just like you.  Res  Rei  Rei REM Re." 

In my case I was in a different mood.  Perhaps my grief grew into incoherent raving -- at least my mind before I wrote "Morning" was incoherent to start with.  My heart has never rushed toward a bullet.  In fact I am used to the incoherence of random ideas flitting through my mind.  I wouldn't call them raving though.  And when I sought something, I didn't give structure to all the ideas as perhaps Geary does his.  I selected something that seemed pressing and when I focused on that the rest subsided and vanished.  Am I the only one who writes this way?  I have often wondered about poets who were considered mad, or like Maykovsky commit suicide.  Perhaps they aren't on good terms with the ideas that flood their minds.  Perhaps for them writing is no solution.  Perhaps, they think, the only way to make the raving stop is to rush toward a bullet. 

I wouldn't say that I am on "good" terms with the ideas that sometimes flood my mind, but I'm a long way from finding them demonic.  Perhaps if a poet's ideas have become demonic there is indeed no other way out.

Since Maykovsky was the most beloved poet of the early Soviets they were quick to declare his suicide to be the result of his relationships with three women, especially Lilli.  Later non-soviet critics believed Mayakovsky was being hounded by the soviet police and that was the real reason he committed suicide, but neither the soviets nor the later critics were poets.  I am inclined to think Maykovski committed suicide to escape his demon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015



Thoughts flit – I can’t catch
One whole – they fragment,
Not quite understood.  I search
For a word to make them stop –
To tamp them down so I can
Rely on their reality – conclude
The imagined collection now resolved.

But, I worry: what if I chose
A different word and used
It to constrain the rest?  Would
It not create a different now?
So many nows drift by.  Sighing
I single one passing and dry
Its eyes.  Looking back I see

A smile I missed – not mine –
I cannot use it now or ever
Again.  A doleful gloom
Unrolls.  I set the sigh aside,
But feel the tumult churn as
It too slips away and I must
Settle for a morning unexplained.

Monday, September 21, 2015



Everything she did was on her way –
No stopping for her even when
Stopped – sleeping only so she could
Rise and begin again.  I watched
Her unsteady steps, not gain-
Saying .  She having deferred
Medical guess-work, not even

Needing me to drive her
To her appointments, or so
She said.  I carried her
Up the stairs and across a
Threshold conceding she could
Have done that too, she from
Whom starlight flashed when I

First took her hand, guiding her
Or so I thought, but she thought
She guided me with as much
Strength as she could spare.  She
Surged ahead, not letting herself
Be held back by my doubts. 
Who would say she should have

Gone a different way -- mounted
Up into vain medical epiphanies?  She
Listened to more advice than I could
Bear, and steadily advanced toward
Her  destination – finding it, reaching
Out – letting go – hand
Holding to the very end. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dream Seeking


I walked the aisles full
Of work and found her.
Administrators hovered,
Talking, telling her things   
Of importance. She
Caught my eye but turned
Back to hear what else they

Would say.  I walked on
Wanting to find her
Securely.  I worried
I would lose her in the
Muddle – too many
Irrelevant elements.  She
Counted on me once

More, never doubting,
But I was no confident
Finder. Too much now
Was new and unfamiliar.
I walked the aisles
No longer knowing I
Would find her again.

Saturday, September 12, 2015



I bought her book used,
Withdrawn from Marquette
University Library never
Having been checked out
In thirteen years, poetry
Not important in this
Time and place; yet for

Certain ones who strive
In language – not merely –
But see its beauty and
Through something – touch –   
Make some on a
Disconsolate page
Occasionally, it is secretly

Revered, not hidden from
Fear merely – by the foolish
Wandering off into fields
Of it for no good reason,
To Sit on grass smashed
By those rushing past
The library on their way.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dwelling upon Death (Dickinson & Vendler)


I read William James Varieties of Religious Experience at a young age and always considered myself a “healthy” rather than a “sick” soul.  But the final stages of Susan’s illness and consequent death forced me into that other realm, if not to the extent of making my soul sick at least to the dwelling upon the subject of death more than I might otherwise have done.

In a general (actuarial?) way I was heading in that direction after having arrived at the age of 80.  Even if I wasn’t physically sick it wasn’t possible that I would live another 80 and so I resolved to focus on poetry during my remaining years or as long as I had the mental energy for it.

I began adding books to focus my attention on poetry – many of these turned out to be failures, poetry and poet I still haven’t managed to take seriously.  But one poet is growing on me, Emily Dickinson, and she might be a sick soul.  I won’t swear to it.  Many of her poems are optimistic and it is perhaps only because of her illnesses and near-death experiences that she thought so much about death.  On page 121 of Dickinson, selected poems and commentaries Helen Vendler presents the following Dickinson poem:

Of Bronze – and Blaze –
The North – tonight –
So adequate – it forms –
So preconcerted with itself –
So distant – to alarms –
An Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me –
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty –
Till I take vaster attitudes –
And strut upon my stem –
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them –

My Splendors, are Menagerie –
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the centuries       
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass –
Whom none but Daisies, know –

Editors (not Emily) gave this poem the title “Aurora” and indeed it is her response to seeing the Aurora Borealis, but as I might take up any subject and find before I am done that I am writing about Susan’s death in some way, Dickinson contrasts the magnificence of the Aurora with first the puffing up of herself, strutting (if one can imagine a daisy strutting) upon her stem and her own death.  And while the allusions to the aurora might seem elusive (as they did to me upon the first several readings) the last stanza is clear enough and nicely done.  I like the lines “When I, am long ago” (although I don’t understand the comma) and “Whom none but Daisies, know –“ (and don’t understand the comma in this line either). 

Helen Vendler refers to two versions of this poem and says that Dickinson didn’t indicate a preference.  Vendler though prefers the version which reads “Whom none but Beetles – know”.   Dickinson’s publishers have preferred “Daisies” but Vendler prefers “Beetles.”  She notes that there is a dash after Beetles.  The dash indicates a pause as does a comma but the latter isn’t as grammatically acceptable.  Also, Dickinson nicknames herself Daisy in other poems.  Also, she mocks herself in this one as “strutting upon my stem.”  But I prefer Daisy.  I like the possibility of reading “Whom none but Daisies, know –“ as referring not only to the daisies that would grow above her grave but to the critics and others who might read her poems and strut upon their own stems.

So many of Dickinson’s poems are about death it is scarcely possible to open her complete poems at random without finding one.  I did that just now and found,

I died for Beauty – but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room –

He questioned softly “Why I failed”?
“For Beauty”, I replied
“And I – for Truth – Themself are One –
We Brethren are”, He said –

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night –
We talked between the Rooms –
Until the Moss had reached our lips –
And covered up – our names –

Helen Vendler writes about this poem as well, except unlike me she takes the “I” not to be Dickinson but to be “Beauty” itself.  Why does Vendler do this?  Vendler begins by saying Dickinson was keying off of Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn.  I’m not comfortable with this.  It isn’t Beauty who is in the tomb but someone who died for Beauty and Vendler makes no distinction.  The people who died are abandoned and replaced by Keats’ Beauty and Truth. 

Vendler says in regard to the term “fail” in the fifth line that it is used in the sense of “weaken and die”.  I don’t agree with that either.  That is, “fail” has more than the meaning “weaken and die” and I suspect Dickinson had more than that in mind.  The meanings that came first to my mind were to be “deficient” and “fall short.”  Both these people fell short but there was no end to talking about it – until the moss obliterated memory of them.  But it was the people who died that had their memories obliterated – not beauty or truth in my opinion; even though Vendler is consistent by asserting “even the highest Platonic concepts gradually disappear under the Moss.”

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Reckoning


We ran as long as we could –
Thought to thought thinking
Whether to eat this, run some
More, listen to someone different.
But being guilty we knew there
Must come a day when the
Executioner would appear.

He placed the mask over her face,
Turned on the oxygen and told us
To wait, “Just a few days”;
She must endure it.  There
Would be no reprieve.  We
Knew it.  She took it without
A whimper, and walked out

Proudly before them.  She
Threw off her mask to
Stand with an amused look.  A
Cigarette dangled from her lips;
She gave me a wink. 
“Everything’s okay,” were her
Last words.  “Everyone does it.”



We were fleeing back down
The hall to the old stairwell
Which hadn’t been maintained.
We had no choice, darkness was
Coming and there were no lights
Working In the building. “You 
Okay,” I called over my shoulder?

She groaned in response.  I took
Her hand and hurried on a bit more
Slowly.  “They can’t have blocked
Every way,” I gasped.  “They haven’t
The men.”  “How do you know they
Are men,” she said sharply?  “Listen”
I said, stopping, looking back down

The hallway.  “What?”  “I thought
“I heard feet running.”  “Might
Be the old place creaking.
Might be rain.  Might be your
Poor sense of hearing.  “Might be,”
I agreed no longer hearing the
Sound.  We found the stairwell;

I opened the door to the
Screaming sound of rusted hinges.
“Hey,” I heard behind.  We
Hurried down.  “Hold up,”
I said stopping after a few floors
Holding the rail.  She bumped
Against me grabbing my shoulder.

Some of the steps crumbled;
We kept to the side nearest
The wall and inched down
In the disappearing light.  After a
Bit we heard the door we’d used
Creak open and the sound of
Men rushing after us running

Headlong.  Someone screamed as
A stair-step gave way.  We reached
The ground floor. I slammed against
The door again and again until it
Gave.  The night became alive
With stars and a moon lighting
Our way back to our Jeep.   The rain

Washed our windows clean.  Whatever
Was coming had not reached us quite yet
I backed out, turned in a tight circle
And gingerly traversed the pot holes
And gutters filled with rain.  There
Was something coming, but we
Would run as long as we could.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pulling the Plug


He was guilty of something.
The D.A. gave me a look and
Shook her head – maybe just
Not this.  I shrugged and went
Back through the double doors –
The years were running together
No one was innocent!  Furthermore

Their guilt was worse than
Ours in this scheme of
Things.  We enforce the law,
Not them – crying as they will
Bleeding out their weakness
On their kitchen floors, their
Knives lying nearby.  She’ll

Cry it was all his fault and he’ll
Say it was hers.  We just count
The wounds and get someone to
Sop up the blood – have a beer
Or two on the way home – can’t
Even depend on family any more.
Mort’s kid was found last week

With a needle still stuck in his arm.
Danny’s wife was found dead
Drunk outside their apartment,
Danny will never confess he was
With Tina at the time.  I’ve put
My time in, time to pull the plug:   
Take my boat and dogs and drive

Some place up north where people
Are farther apart, where you can hear
Them coming, crunching up your
Walk, and if they ratchet in a round
you can hear that too.  The dogs will
Snarl and you’ll be able to see their
Outlines outside your kitchen window.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Night Music


She tapped me on the shoulder
Waking me.  I looked about at
Duffy across the room and Ben
Sleeping at my feet to be sure.
She would have something in
Mind important to her 
Though she would think

It was me she was thinking of,
My conscience after all these
Years, waking me in the
Night to wrestle with what I
Strove not to know or think.
I would concede if she
Asked me face to face

To deal with these fears,
Arguing as she would with a soft
Smile against which I had no
Defense.  I hear the Righteous
Brothers’ singing while she’s
Going – gone, gone, gone
I know, but not quite yet.