The Heresy of Paraphrase
Published on August 1, 2011 6:13 pm.

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The NYTimes holds forth on the heresy of paraphrase:

So what is your poem about?

[The] frustration [associated with that question] has little if anything to do with the supposed stormy temperaments of poets. It rather derives, at least partly, from the fact that the question, simple as it may appear, is one that in fact has no satisfactory answer.


In “The Well Wrought Urn” — that well-known and well-wrought book of literary criticism — Cleanth Brooks described what he called ‘the heresy of paraphrase.” The main idea — that efforts at paraphrasing poetry into prose fail in ways that parallel attempts for prose do not — was not new. It has been generally agreed upon since Aristotle. This skeptical thesis was championed in the first half of the 20th century by the New Critics as well as by their guiding spirit, T.S. Eliot, who, when asked to interpret the line “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree in the cool of the day…” from his poem “Ash Wednesday,” responded, “It means ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree in the cool of the day.’ ”

Praise for Veils
Published on July 11, 2011 7:07 pm.

From NYTimes:

‘We could imagine a five-minute version of “Hamlet.”

Scene One: Hamlet moping at court, dressed in inky black, with a mixture of grief for his dead father and seething loathing of his bloated, boozing uncle, Claudius, who has married his seemingly virtuous mother, Gertrude.

Scene Two: Horatio, a rather close college chum on a surprise visit. The guards turn up and tell Hamlet they’ve seen his father’s perturbed spirit wandering the battlements of Elsinore Castle. Hamlet is amazed and decides to watch for the ghost that night.

Scene Three: The ghost of the father (who of course has the same name as his son) tells Hamlet that he was not bitten by some serpent, but murdered by his brother Claudius. The ghost asks for vengeance, “Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest.”

Scene Four: Hamlet runs from the battlements into the chamber of his “parents” and slaughters Claudius with a rapier and dagger, but leaves his mother “to heaven,” i.e. she gets to live with the prick and sting of bad conscience over what she has done.

Scene Five: Hamlet becomes King of Denmark, defeats the invading armies of Fortinbras. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Ophelia; Laertes is the best man. Gertrude withdraws to a nunnery in England and Polonius meets a younger woman and they hatch the novel idea of founding a Danish colony in the new world.



The Eternal Night of Friends, Junk Food and Facebook Status Updates
Published on February 25, 2011 7:12 pm.

I find myself on Facebook frequently depressed, scanning a stack of status updates and indulging a sense of longing. Sometimes my longing is for the kind of free-wheeling and spurious socialization that Facebook is, I think, intended to fulfill. But at other times the longing is an indirect-yet-intentional side-effect, a sort of emotional nausea similar to that induced by spinning in place and staring at one point in the sky, trying to get at the pleasures of dizziness and finding instead that when the whole world becomes a blur, so does one’s guts.

Still, Facebook is nothing if not a great attempt at soul food, social gumbo, a way of pouring all your friends into a technological broth meant to be tasted slowly and continually, but never finally consumed. For me, though, there’s never a second-day savor — the second day never comes. There is only a string of successive first days, where the flavors are as distinct and expected and satisfying as ever they attain to being in their individual merits, spicy or flat, sweet or confusing, but never able to blend in a curry, or even a legitimate stew. Instead, all Facebook status updates, by virtue of their endlessly equal march regardless of content, jostle each other in a manner that’s neither congenial nor rude, but perfectly and somewhat strangely homogeneous in their exclusivity, as though we’re all suspended in the broth’s bubbles. As though it is a broth of bubbles.

Any given day, a friend — ‘friend’, as a reference on Facebook, is a smooth-turning knob with stops at ‘Total Stranger’ and ‘Actual Friend’, and where any setting to the left of maximum implies a degree of personal politics, making Facebook, at times, feel like a very performative space — one friend might post about her terrible day while another blurbs his involvement with an ongoing and controversial political movement. Someone else will add to her long list of positive thinking affirmations, which makes me believe that she’s struggling with a lot of negative thoughts, and then a long-silent acquaintance might pop up and scrawl some familiar quote, though newly meaningful to him — “We are all a lost generation” — but with no explanation as to how or why it’s meaningful. Sometimes there is an explanation and I wish there weren’t, because Facebook is insufficient to any touch but the lightest. So, after the quote, there might be, “This is so true!” and, if I’m inclined to ask why, it’s usually an error. The Facebook flowchart of responses allows for only a few pathways: 1) brevity that begs for a generous interpretation, 2) dry humor, 3) zany humor, 4) witty humor, or 5) inappropriate humor. It’s a jackpot when a response hits all five numbers at once.

I should say, too, that this is entirely a case of self-implication. I admit that I’m guiltier by far than any of my friends when it comes to putting on a Faceface. I’m always chasing after Facewit, Googling other people’s Facequotes, responding as if I’ve known the origin for time out of mind, and, generally, trying to sell others on my Facebrain, which bears only an incidental resemblance to the heavier, technologically unassisted gray mass.

So for me Facebook is frequently a depressing place, despite being a place for friends — “Friends” probably the apt gross reference to the collection of amicable relationships found there, but also as a reference to the TV show that mimics Facebook’s strange, planar desolation. Always content to zone out to a familiar melody, it was years before I realized just how weird “Friends” is as a story. Every season, the plots and characters are almost exactly the same. Ross wants Rachel, but can’t have her. Sometimes it’s the reverse, Rachel wanting Ross, and that’s a nice change. Chandler is always witty and fumbling. Sometimes he isn’t quite as fumbling — cool when that happens. Ross is fumbling and charmingly witless, but he has a Ph.D. in paleontology, which no one ever wants to hear about even though, you know, they’re close friends and this is his life’s work. Joey, too, fumbling, and with a sexual power that is never convincingly established, but the audience is meant to buy it, even when Matt LeBlanc is on the Doughnut Diet, so fine, I like dougnuts too, and sex — there’s a Category 5 joke there somewhere. Phoebe’s idiocy always resolves into spacey wisdom and Monica’s relentless anality is always mitigated by her further relentless anality. The show is perfectly flat. Nothing is really emphasized — other than the idea that, hey, friends matter! — or is allowed to gain much traction, but everyone’s so pretty and witty and gay. Nothing’s ever established, or asserted, or addressed, or even truly discussed. Frequently, though, there’s wordplay.

And, yes, I get it, it’s a comedy, so the joke’s on me if I take it too seriously, but that’s just the thing — I really do like Friends. I always will watch Friends if it’s on. I’ll even get excited if I catch the first show in its hour-long late-night two-season syndication. I’ve seen all the episodes, I know the jokes, I know the characters. But if it’s on, I’ll watch it, because these people are the ultimate others, with problems I don’t understand, but that, thankfully, I don’t have to understand in order to be entertained, like a meal of human potato chips, salty and tasty, but not, actually, food. Perfect, though, for convenient, just-short-of-satisfying, relentless consumption.

Which is, again, how I view Facebook — it’s the way to eat your friends in conveniently wrapped, bite-sized chunks. And I don’t pretend, at least for the purposes of this note, that Facebook seriously interrupts or interferes with the meaningful relationships of my life, because it doesn’t. But if you’re prone to ennui, Montaigne’s melancholy (by modifying it with “Montaigne” I believe I’m elevating it somewhat and my self-awareness in this move in no way invalidates it in my opinion), or any sort of spiritual malaise, Facebook can be a technological pharmakon, killing while it cures in a trade-off that’s very nearly equal, but not exactly quite. The argument might be made that Facebook does nothing, that it merely mirrors what’s happening within, but that ignores the significance of form. When I’m not on Facebook I don’t think about my friends in terms of a collection of brief, running notes, nor do I spend time trying to invent ways to present myself in that format. Meeting my friends is not, generally, a drive-by experience that necessarily emphasizes rapid-fire cleverness — though sometimes, I’ll admit, this is the case. For now, on Facebook, this is always the case.

Mod Melange: The Ekphrastic Exhibition
Published on November 21, 2010 11:18 pm.

Mod Melange is a network of artists doing shows in New York and Los Angeles. The artists of Mod Melange represent a wide variety of styles and approaches and they’re about to kick off the new year with a showcase of ekphrastic poetry—as well as whatever the reverse of ekphrastic poetry would be. Citsarhpke art? Whatever it is, it’s poets responding to paintings and painters responding to poetry. There are more details at the site linked below. Please give it a look and, if you’re inclined, help support the evening. The shows truly benefit the artists and, this time, poets, too, so even a dollar helps!

Entasis in Motion
Published on November 7, 2010 12:49 am.

Entasis 1, Faustian Falls, is a done deal. Time to bask in the soft radiance of a job well done.


Done basking. Time to ramble. Jack Spicer says, “[Tradition] means generations of different poets in different countries patiently telling the same story, writing the same poem, gaining and losing something with each transformation,” which means, to me, that poems are snapshots of something always in motion. To be a writer is to be moving on, chasing something else — the Subject, which itself is also changing, though the irony is not really — the author usually with a cup of coffee in hand, or a cigarette, or some kind of human heroin. Moving all the time is tiring and stressful.

So here comes Entasis 2. Robert Anasi, our embedded reporter, will be helming this next issue and I’ll leave it to the Editor-in-Chief Pro Tem to ‘splain his vision. But given the response our nascent journal has received, expressed as the sheer number of views shining on our remote, dusty corner of the Web, I’m looking forward to an issue hand-rolled by a guy committed enough to take a facepounding for a book. Would I do the same for a poem? Hell yes I would, but I still have a point.

Issue 1 …
Published on October 12, 2010 10:08 am.

… is closed out. We’re puttin’ this bad dog on a leash and gettin’ ready to take him out for a walk.

We’re tremendously proud of our first issue, which is only days away from online publication. Our theme, “things we’ve agreed to out of desperation,” or “things to which, out of desperation, we have agreed,” or “stupid shit we’ve done in a hurry for the wrong reasons,” is well represented within the issue, the editors’ contribution to that theme being the issue itself.

We’ll be scheduling a reading within the next few weeks, likely in Long Beach, California, the home of one long-assed beach. So if you’re around and in town and want to get down, get Long Beach-bound, hound. After the reading you can commiserate with the writers and grab some Thai cuisine over at Bai Plu. We’re nice people, even if some of us are a little desperate.

Introductory Burgeoning With Some Swelling Implied
Published on August 25, 2010 9:19 am.

Living free of Facebook. I found myself, too often, logging in so that I could avoid some minor but annoying errand — a rather large percentage of my days. Somehow, too, admiring the pithy, but mostly context-ephemeral mini-missives arcing through my friendcloud began to feel willfully shallow, as did my own motivations for launching personal remarkettes. The 60s gave us Hippies, but the 21st century’s sprouting Quippies, a screen-tanned, bloodshot crew of bullet-thinkers ready to pop off a few one-thought-or-less witcaps just as soon as look atcha. There must be more to filial love than 20 nimble (or not so) words and a photo of your friend with those people at that party for that thing the other night.

Either that or Facebook is a great clarifier and the digital orgy is a boring bash. Well, we’re here and we’re spiking the punch. Putting Facebook away means that now I can focus, and here I am, posting, he of the palest complexion the first to fling his shirt into the bushes and jump into the pool, hoping that my learned colleagues aren’t so mouth-dropped by my snow-white scut that they forget that they’re the ones now stumped naked poolside and with not even an iced drink in their hands to excuse it. Chumps.

Now to the question I will try ever-so-my-best to answer: What is poetry?

It’s stew of the mind and mouth. Next.

What is Entasis? The answer is: we’ll see. At its core, Entasis is the hivemind of four writers from the University of California, Irvine. Beyond its core, Entasis is, at its beginning, their network, nothing less than an elite group of the finest young guns west of the Rockies, and even a few of them east of the Rockies, and probably a few living in or around the Rockies. Clearly the Rockies are meaningless here. What became meaningful for us, though, was realizing that between us honeybees we knew quite a few talented scrawlers whose writing has impressed, or moved, or inspired us at one time or another, and that seeing their work published more often — alongside high quality work from people we’ve yet to meet, i.e., you, possibly, or someone you might find attractive — was an exciting mission to undertake. We’re looking forward to seeing that mission through.

Our first issue is underway — if you’re reading this and you’ve got a piece of poetry or fiction or non-fiction that fits, even obliquely, even transcendentally (well, especially transcendentally) with our theme, “Things we’ve agreed to out of desperation,” then please do submit. We’re looking for writing that’s smart, fresh, maybe wild, maybe a little hot, not poseur-hot, but that’s been through its whole drug phase and really isn’t looking for a new way to get high, just the best way. Of course we have our own ideas and we’ll be sharing them, but we’re willing to be educated. Educate us. Help us burgeon.

Speaking of which, the term ‘entasis’ appears in the OED as ‘A delicate and almost imperceptible swelling in the shaft of a column.’ More specifically, it’s the bulge that’s added to a column in order to make it appear straight. So there you are. The name is out in the open. It’s a word with a beautiful enunciation and a significance that instantly creates its own lurid reductions. Stew of the mind and mouth. Is there a story about why we chose it? Who cares? I could say more.

In closing my inaugural post I’ll quote a little wisdom from Horace: “Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum. / Grata superveniet, quæ non sperabitur hora.” So true. Please do come back, if for no other reason than to discover, in my next post, why I went there. I’ll look forward to sharing the answer to that, and more, with you then.

Peace, love, global cooling,


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