Swing and a Miss February 9, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in Atheism, Poetry, Religion, Science.
I take a time out from grading to highlight for you the incredible ignorance on display in this piece by Tom Frame:
I find the materialist atheism of some rational sceptics harder to accept than theistic belief, and cannot make sense of my life in this world without believing in God and providence. Crudely naturalistic science leaves no room for poetic truth, refuses to honour any spiritual element in physical things and cannot accept the existence of a human soul.
Two points: first, it’s telling that Frame uses “accept.” Clearly it is his view of the implications of atheism that is the problem, not atheism itself. He doesn’t say “I believe there is strong evidence for a God*” but rather settles for the tamer “I don’t like to believe there is not a God.” It’s lazy thinking at best.
Second, it’s clear that Frame doesn’t have the foggiest idea what “science” leaves room for. Anyone who looks at methodological naturalism (or even philosophical naturalism) and decrees that it leaves no room for artistic insight into the human condition is a fool.
As difficult as it might be for Frame to believe, my appreciation for poetry hasn’t lessened since I rejected theism. Maybe he isn’t familiar with that classic atheistic poem, Dover Beach? You know, the one that finds poetic truth in light of science’s erosion of the need to evoke God as an explanation.
I wouldn’t have believed one could get so much wrong about both art and science in one paragraph. It’s quite an achievement in ineptitude, really.
*The best he can do is convergence. Seriously.
Elizabeth Alexander’s Inauguration Poem: my thoughts January 22, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in Barack Obama, Elizabeth Alexander, Poetry.
I’m getting a bunch of hits about Alexander’s poem “Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration,” since I mocked Newsmax for being, well, themselves over her selection as inaugural poet. As you can see from LQ’s post, I’m rather late to this party, but this blog is about poetry, among other things, and God knows my student loan payments are testimony for my years spent studying that subject, so I suppose I should weigh in.
Here’s Alexander’s Poem, followed by my thoughts:
Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.
Obama’s inauguration: Newsmax slams Elizabeth Alexander December 21, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Poetry, wingnuts.
This is just hilarious. The far-right website Newsmax isn’t happy about Obama’s choice of poet Elizabeth Alexander to participate in his inauguration. Now, they like to pretend they’re a legitimate news source, so they don’t come out and say they’re unhappy. They just write an incredibly ignorant and mind-numbing article with all the intellectual merit or spray painting “shut up” on the door of a teacher one doesn’t like.
Take, for example, the enlightening title:
The article then proceeds to deliver Teh Stupid immediately:
Obama has been touted as among the most literary presidents in modern history, but his choice for an inaugural poet has some scratching their heads.
It’s important to note that, in true dishonest journalism standard, they never mention who these “some” are. It’s easier just to make broad claims with no support, after all.
Acting more like a man of politics than a man of letters, Obama picked former Chicago neighbor and family chum Elizabeth Alexander to deliver an original inaugural poem next month.
Now Newsmax staffers want to lecture a constitutional scholar and a Pulitzer-Prize nominated poet on what it means to be “a man of letters.” This is roughly equivalent to Ken Hamm lecturing Steven Hawking on what it means to be a scientist.
But Alexander is no Robert Frost, critics are quick to point out.
“Alexander writes with a fine, angry irony, in vividly concrete images, but her poems have the qualities of most contemporary American poetry — a specificity that’s personal and unsuggestive, with moves toward the general that are self-consciously academic. They are not poems that would read well before an audience of millions,” writes George Packer in the New Yorker.
This may mark the first time ever that Newsmax has used a New Yorker writer’s views on poetry to defend its position.* And they’re also displaying ignorance of Robert Frost, who loved “fine, angry irony” and concrete images, and whose public persona was popular in spite of the content of his poetry, not because of it. (The Road Not Taken is a perfect example of irony and of meaning generally missed by “an audience of millions,” for example.)
Newsmax then proceeds to take two passages from one of Alexander’s poems out of context in order to try to make her look bad. Unfortunately for the idiots at Newsmax, they know less about poetry than politics, and generally just come off as idiots clutching their pearls at graphic language.
Alexander, who has published four collections of poetry, including 2005’s Pulitzer-nominated “American Sublime,” will take the stage along with a host of other celebs, including Aretha Franklin, Itzhak Perlman, and Yo-Yo Ma.
Apparently no one on Newsmax staff realized you can’t spend the a whole article mocking a poet and contemporary poetry as being irrelevant, and then call that same contemporary poet a “celeb.”
The good news is, this piece came out in December. If it had been in January, it would have crushed all contenders for the stupidest thing written by a wingnut about poetry in 2009. Now it just takes the 2008 award.
[*Packer's New Yorker post is also interesting, in that it's basically a critique of contemporary poetry as irrelevant, written by one who's employer has published Elizabeth Alexander more than once. It seems to me that Packer should have considered what it says about the New Yorker's relevance, if contemporary poets shouldn't read at public venues.]
Midweek poetry June 11, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in Poetry.
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Go read this story and the poem that goes with it. It’s very, very hard to read, but you won’t regret having read it. (It deals explicitly with rape, so maybe not safe for work.)
Quote of the Moment, ancient poetry edition January 15, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in language and lit, Poetry.
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Today seemed like a good time to give a hat-tip both to that wonderful book of ancient poetry, Ecclesiastes, and to an insightful and hilarious essay on language, Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. I don’t agree with Orwell on every point, but he does make the single best example of bad prose that I’ve ever read:
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
Friday poetry: Broken Window by Jim Daniels October 5, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in Poetry.
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The thoughtful points raised in this thread–ironically, given the stupidity to which my post responds–left me with lots to think about. The older I get, the more I think William Carlos Williams had it right: “It is difficult to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
With that in mind, today’s poem
by Jim Daniels
Friday Poetry: William Stafford’s Report to Crazy Horse September 21, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in Poetry.
The poem is below the fold. Since I know my readers to the thoughtful critics of issues of poetry and politics, I’ll begin with a question: is is acceptable for Stafford to take on this voice? Why or why not? I would love to know your thoughts.
Hump-day poetry: W. H. Auden’s “Epitaph on a Tyrant” September 4, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in News and politics, Poetry.
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Epitaph on a Tyrant
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
Poetry: Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Sonnet XLIII” July 20, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in Poetry.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
Midweek Music: poetry edition June 20, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Poetry.
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I generally leave the music posts for The Lizard Queen, who’s musical knowledge surpasses mine by several orders of magnitude. But I couldn’t help but note Loreena McKennitt putting Yeats’ “The Stolen Child” to music:
I doubt that any English-language poet from the last century has had more of a gift for making rhyme and rhythm seem natural, and no one best Yeats at the great standard of rhyme proposed by Frost: in a good rhyme, the reader should not be able to tell which word was chosen first and which chosen because it rhymes.
McKennitt captures that aspect of his poetry brilliantly.