Tuesday 23


Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ pm

Randall Jarrell had a knack for criticism that makes you want to go read the poem.

Likewise, Francis-Noël Thomas‘s article Moving and Memorable on the newest edition of Larkin sends me out to reacquire a volume, hopefully one of the original books.

quoting Larkin:

It was Eliot who gave the modernist poetic movement its charter in the sentence, “Poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult,” and it was Betjeman who was to bypass the whole light industry of critical exegesis that had grown up round this fatal phrase by demonstrating that a direct relation with the reading public could be established by anyone able to be moving and memorable.

Thomas and Mark Turner co-authored one of my all time favorite books: Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose; second edition recently published.


Sunday 157


Filed under: Mind, Society, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ pm

What is George Scialabba Good For?” by Mark Oppenheimer in AGNI online 2009

(…seeing the skeptical social democrat Scialabba get in the ring with the pop-psychologizing Malcolm Gladwell would be tasty)

For the left, Lasch’s critique of capitalism was profoundly discomfiting, because it posited “progress” as anything but. “For Lasch, then,” Scialabba writes, “modernization was not the solution but a new form of the problem—the problem, that is, of domination.”

Making the Case for Intellectuals” by Maureen Corrigan on Fresh Air 2009-04-28

Scialabba says: “Though nearly everything Trilling wrote had an ultimate political relevance, almost nothing he wrote had an immediate political reference.”

Monday 151

Orwell’s truths

Filed under: Politics, Society, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ am

Eternal vigilance” by Keith Gessen in the New Statesman 2009-05-28

… he thought a mature totalitarian system would so deform its citizenry that they would not be able to overthrow it.

Orwell may have gotten it right. Some citizens have overthrown totalitarian governments. But dictatorship does correlate with minds incapable of overthrowing it. Which came first?

University is where you sometimes get loaded up with fancy terms whose meaning you’re not quite sure of.

Orwell encapsulates Wilson’s argument with a remarkable concision: “Dickens had grown up near enough to poverty to be terrified of it, and in spite of his generosity of mind, he is not free from the special prejudices of the shabby-genteel.” This is stark, and fair, and that “terrified” is unforgettable.

Sunday 143

Welcome to America, now please shut up

Filed under: Travel, Writing — Tags: , — zundel @ pm

Mirror on America” by David Brooks in The New York Times 2009-05-22

…here will be a prose-poem of pure meaninglessness as his brilliance finally breaks loose from the tethers of observation and oozes across the page in a great, gopping goo of pure pretension.

I know the country, or most of it. It’ll never fit in a book. It has been too cliched, too stereotyped. Describing it truly would require new language, and that would take many words.

Jacques Barzun once observed that of all the books it is impossible to write, the most impossible is a book trying to capture the spirit of America (I first read this truth when I was three-quarters of the way through my own attempt).

Friday 127

Mortgaging the nation

Filed under: Economy, Politics, Society — Tags: , , — zundel @ am

Obsessive Housing Disorder” by Steven Malanga in City Journal Spring 2009

The program could not work because it tried to solve a problem of wealth creation through debt creation.

Thursday 105

True Britannia

Filed under: Society, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ pm

As the pink bits faded off into the sunset:

Darkness visible” by Philip Hensher in The Guardian 2009-04-11

And the rest of us?

Tuesday 26

Inaugurating poetry

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ pm

The sound of breaking butterfly cheers me immensely:

Inaugural Verse” by Rudolph Delson in n+1 2009-01-19

It is not, in fact, so hard to know what to make of Elizabeth Alexander. She is a poet who, this Tuesday, will earnestly attempt to do something that may well be beyond her talents.

Adam Kirsch on Elizabeth Alexander’s Bureaucratic Verse” in “The Plank” at The New Republic 2009-01-20

Wednesday 365

Instinct for art

Filed under: Art — Tags: , — zundel @ am

Showing off the life of the mind” by Robert Fulford in the National Post 2008-12-30

By shrewdly choosing the best material available, A&LD has emerged as the most useful intellectual magazine in the English-speaking world.

In 1993 two Russian artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, organized a statistically impeccable survey of taste in 10 countries. They concluded that people from Iceland to China hold similar opinions about art: All express affection for landscapes, particularly landscapes dominated by blue, with water somehow involved.


Wednesday 358

Dissent on architecture

Filed under: Building — Tags: — zundel @ am

Learning from Venturi” by Christopher Caldwell in The Weekly Standard 2008-12-29

It will be surprising if Mark Rothko, Henry Moore, Josef Albers, and Andy Warhol are still preoccupying any serious person (let alone commanding top dollar) 50 years from now.

Gerhard Kallmann’s Boston City Hall still sits like a Stalinist mausoleum on an empty, windswept plaza…

What makes Learning from Las Vegas so fascinating is this trick of deploying one kind of crap to discredit another.

The boy who says the emperor has no clothes does a service even if he has no “blueprint for governance.”

Thursday 352

Keith Douglas and poetry misread

Filed under: Poetry, Politics — Tags: — zundel @ am

from “How to Kill” (1943) by Keith Douglas (1920–1944)

Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.

Douglas had a voice appropriate to his war and technique to use it.

Jon Glover brackets a review mostly about Keith Douglas with genuflections to ideology. He quotes Douglas’s peer Sidney Keyes:

Person and Politics: Commitment in the Forties” by Jon Glover in Poetry Nation 1974

In an insecure, unplanned society such as ours, no one has a right to complain that art is obscure or out of touch with the people; this state of affairs is inevitable, and will remain so, as long as the structure of society itself stands between him and his potential audience. While the mass of the people are excluded from full participation in the necessary activities of society, among which artistic appreciation is one of the most important, all Art for the People will be bad art, and nearly all good art will be obscure and exclusive. (Keyes, “The Artist in Society”, Minos of Crete, p 149)

Keyes accurately describes the result: bad art for the people, and the obscure. He mistakes the obscure for good. And he ignores that most good art existed before him, from times even less secure.

And Glover persistently slips on ideology and misreads Douglas.

Glover’s invocations of ideology seem silly from the distance of more than thirty years. But they do matter. We inherit the legacy of this criticism.

Did Marxist literary criticism license inaccessible art?

Simplify Me When I’m Dead” wrote Douglas.

Read the poems.

Tuesday 350

Turning students off

Filed under: Education, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ am

A frank statement of a grave problem—and a good read.

Leaving Literature Behind” by Bruce Fleming in The Chronicle Review 2008-12-19

We’ve made ourselves into a priestly caste: To understand literature, we tell students, you have to come to us. Yet professionalization is a pyrrhic victory: We’ve won the battle but lost the war. We’ve turned revelation into drudgery, shut ourselves in airless rooms, and covered over the windows.

[from A&LD]

Friday 346

Poetry with footnotes

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ am

John Donne wrote complicated poetry. Called metaphysical, he wrote unusually realistic and sensual poems. Poor and ambitious, he too often reached to display his erudition. But his metaphors grabbed his readers. Now we need footnotes.

Classically educated readers of poets in dead languages gave Donne 20th century attention. So many footnotes.

And much of modern poetry went off into obscurantism. Imagery and words, poets’ tools for conveying, became methods to conceal. Abstruse got praise.

Good poems have something to tell. A poem has no purpose making a reader search for meaning. The dense crafted ambiguity of poetry should reveal at least one meaning.

Perhaps reading the great but now footnoted leads to the naive assumption that great poetry must conceal its meaning. Perhaps apparatus got mistaken for seriousness. 

Poetry has mostly returned from recondite metaphors—some never wandered. But concern for clear meaning among poetry’s many beauties seems to have got misplaced.

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