You can’t go wrong with Hart Crane. I love especially his early-ish poetry, like this poem I already posted, or the one below. Generally speaking, however, Crane is one of the most consistently amazing American poets I know. Buy his Collected Poems which is a slim and affordable little book. Or buy it as a present.

Hart Crane: Chaplinesque

We will make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

William Gass

William Gass, in a 1987 interview

For a long time I abandoned an elaborate style because it simply wasn’t working—I wasn’t able to manage it at all. I went into a phase in philosophy and writing in general that was extremely disciplined and formal. I have a hunch that I am moving now from a baroque stage into a more clear, lyrical stage. That was always there, though. It just depends what kind of story I’m working on, I guess. I feel that I’m more likely to move in the direction of Henry James and get more mannered. I don’t mind that at all. I like late James better than anything. I like late things: Finnegans Wake, late quartets by Beethoven, late Bartok, late Verdi, late Yeats. They’re breaking through their manner to something absolutely different. And if you’re very, very lucky, that’s what happens. What Borges has decided to do is to simply be Borges, which I would be happy to be, of course. But to do something like Fuentes is doing is to constantly push, to try new things. That is more exciting to me, that breaking through. Late Beethoven breaks through and finds for himself a new scheme. Of course, that’s just a dream. He had to be a great artist to do that.

For Time is / nothing if not amenable.

Elizabeth Bishop: The Shampoo

The still explosions on the rocks,
the lichens, grow
by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
They have arranged
to meet the rings around the moon, although
within our memories they have not changed.

And since the heavens will attend
as long on us,
you’ve been, dear friend,
precipitate and pragmatical;
and look what happens. For Time is
nothing if not amenable.

The shooting stars in your black hair
in bright formation
are flocking where,
so straight, so soon?
— Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,
battered and shiny like the moon.

The chronic inattention / Of our lives

I love browsing the internet and finding songs or poems one knows but has almost forgotten, like this 1979 poem by John Ashbery.

John Ashbery: Late Echo

Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.

Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.

Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.

Leavings from the feast of language

The moment when a life ended was as mysterious as when it began. A corpse not cold was like a child in the womb: a golem-thing, neither truly alive nor truly un-alive. The body, going through its after-death changes, continued to hold on to the soul, in whole or in part, for an unpredictable duration. In olden times the last rites had been meant as banishments to expel the spirit, less to assist the dead to heaven than to protect the living from any remnants of will and desire that might be stuck in the flesh and could thus remain, lost, half-sentient, and potentially troublesome. No one liked ghosts or walking corpses. But modern prayers weren’t worth much. They were hack jobs, leavings from the feast of language, the work of bad translators and worse poetasters. It was no wonder that the daily newspapers were full of ghost sightings. Shreds of the dead were surely lingering like unwashed clothes in corners and under beds.

from K. J. Bishop’s extraordinary debut novel The Etched City which I’ll review in due course.

Between scattered clumps of weed

Thom Gunn: Fennel

High fog, white sky
Above me on the bouldered hill
Where I
Stumble between head-high
And scattered clumps of weed
–Fennel, of which I once thought seed
Made you invisible.
Each forms a light green mist
–Feathery auras, though the look deceives
For looked at closely they consist
Of tiny leading into tinier leaves
In which each fork in sharply separate.
Yet tender, touched: I pinch a sprig and sniff,
And it reminds me of
The other times I have pinched fennel sprigs
For this fierce poignancy.
I stand here as if lost,
As if invisible on this broken cliff,
Invisible sky above.
And for a second I float free
Of personality, and die
Into my senses, into the unglossed
Sweet and transporting yet attaching smell
–The very agent that releases me
Holding me here as well.

Mark Twain on Spelling

From Twain’s recently published Autobiography that’s apparently selling really well.

As I have said before, I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters, and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.

(quote stolen from Language Log)

On Elizabeth Bishop

Three short clips from the documentary Elizabeth Bishop: Voices and Visions. Judging from the clips it’s a bit odd in some places, but still. Wish I could get my hands on the film. I can’t manage to embed the clip from part one or two, so here’s the direct link to clip 1. Here is the direct link to the second clip. Finally, below, is clip 3.

Hiding the Pints

Been doing some reading/thinking on this poem lately. Any thoughts?

Elizabeth Bishop: The Prodigal

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs’ eyes followed him, a cheerful stare–
even to the sow that always ate her young–
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.

But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern–like the sun, going away–
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats’ uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make up his mind to go home.

Of things invisible to mortal sight

Thus begins Book 3 of John Milton’s Paradise Lost which I am currently rereading for which seems like the millionth time. And it’s still amazing.

Hail holy light, ofspring of Heav’n first-born,
Or of th’ Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam’d? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
Or hear’st thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
Whose Fountain who shall tell? before the Sun,
Before the Heavens thou wert, and at the voice
Of God, as with a Mantle didst invest
The rising world of waters dark and deep,
Won from the void and formless infinite.
Thee I re-visit now with bolder wing,
Escap’t the Stygian Pool, though long detain’d
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight
Through utter and through middle darkness borne
With other notes then to th’ Orphean Lyre
I sung of Chaos and Eternal Night,
Taught by the heav’nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to reascend,
Though hard and rare: thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit’st not these eyes, that rowle in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs,
Or dim suffusion veild. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Cleer Spring, or shadie Grove, or Sunnie Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song; but chief
Thee Sion and the flowrie Brooks beneath
That wash thy hallowd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit: nor somtimes forget
Those other two equal’d with me in Fate,
So were I equal’d with them in renown,
Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides,
And Tiresias and Phineus Prophets old.
Then feed on thoughts, that voluntarie move
Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful Bird
Sings darkling, and in shadiest Covert hid
Tunes her nocturnal Note. Thus with the Year
Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of Ev’n or Morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summers Rose,
Or flocks, or heards, or human face divine;
But cloud in stead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the chearful wayes of men
Cut off, and for the Book of knowledg fair
Presented with a Universal blanc
Of Nature’s works to mee expung’d and ras’d,
And wisdome at one entrance quite shut out.
So much the rather thou Celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.

(Due to my laziness, I copied the text copied from this source, instead of typing it up. I do want to add however, that I strongly recommend reading the poem in the Longman Annotated version, edited by Alastair Fowler)

Sex By Surprise

An excellent post on Feministe about the Assange rape affair, clearing up a point that has been oddly reported in the news.

There’s a lot going around in bloglandia and on the interwebs about WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange’s sexual assault charge in Sweden; commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of “sex by surprise,” which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. Totally unfair, right? Well, no, I’m not sure it’s that straightforward. The actual details of what happened are hard to come by, and are largely filtered through tabloid sources (…), but it sounds like the sex was consensual on the condition that a condom was used. It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. (…)
Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) — if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape.

It comes via an almost as good post on called The rush to smear Assange’s rape accuser. Please read both.

Hanging a drunken leg over the last bap

When a rapper jumps on a beat, he adds his own rhythm. Sometimes you stay in the pocket of the beat and just let the rhymes land on the square so that the beat and flow become one. But sometimes the flow chops up the beat, breaks the beat into smaller units, forces in multiple syllables and repeated sounds and internal rhymes, or hangs a drunken leg over the last bap and keeps going, sneaks out of that bitch.

This is from Jay-Z’s fantastic new book Decoded. Because I’m lazy, I stole that quote from Kelefa Sanneh’s excellent review here, which, in turn, I stole from Jay Smooth’s twitter. Still. Read the book. It’s really good.

I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk

Robinson Jeffers: Hurt Hawks


The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,

No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.

He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.

He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,

The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.

You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.


I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

Yes, more Gwendolyn Brooks.

Below, one of Gwendolyn Brooks’ soldier sonnets from the sequence “Gay Chaps at the Bar”, published in her first collection, the amazing A Street in Bronzeville. Harper has recently reprinted her Selected Poems in a beautiful slim paperback. Please get it/read it already or I’ll keep posting stuff.

Gwendolyn Brooks: The Progress

And still we wear our uniforms, follow
The cracked cry of the bugles, comb and brush
Our pride and prejudice, doctor the sallow
Initial ardor, wish to keep it fresh.
Still we applaud the President’s voice and face.
Still we remark on patriotism, sing,
Salute the flag, thrill heavily, rejoice
For death of men who too saluted, sang.
But inward grows a soberness, an awe,
A fear, a deepening hollow through the cold.
For even if we come out standing up
How shall we smile, congratulate: and how
Settle in chairs? Listen, listen. The step
Of iron feet again. And again wild.