Keats: Prosody: Negative Capability

As to what else is expressed or signified by Keats’ prosody: I would argue that Negative Capability, Keats’ vaunted description of the cognitive process by which dichotomies are harmoniously and without irritation held and expressed in poetic language, is given concrete form by Keats’ prosody; in other words, the exquisite beauty of Keats’ metrical language is itself a metaphor for cognitive boundary dissolution, whether into a tactile Other (the Odes’ enchanted forest) or into the mind’s own imaginative dreamscapes, as they coalesce into a gestalt form. The dynamic, phenomenological tension in Keats’ Odes— what is inside and what is outside Keats’ mind, both as he dreams and as he writes— finds its apotheosis in the masterfully constructed verbal harmonies, resonances, and resolutions, which constitute the basis for a chiasmus of philosophical and aesthetic interest in the Odes. In the hierarchy of targets for the exercise of Negative Capability, the “who”— humanity, as an agent of Keats’ cognitive dissolution into human contexts— is set at a rather lower frequency than the “what”— the ineffable, the Other, the work of art itself, ranged along a vertical axis rather than a horizontal one, sublime, foreboding, beyond the grasp of human cognition, even if (as is the case in Grecian Urn) it includes and encompasses the human to express its own prosodic magnificence.

The importance of the phrase “working brain,” as it appears in Psyche, cannot be overstated— it is Keats’ vow to paganism and classical antiquity, that he can replicate both its sublimity and its tactility, through the conjunction of metrics and narratives. Keats’ prosody becomes the represented ecstasy of cognitive conjunctions— the working brain’s imaginative capacities with the enchanted forests of Greece, and its heroines; the transcendental capacities of human cognition with physical, embodied ecstasy (Cupid and Psyche, the Nightingale); and the horizontal axis of terra firma, the ecstasy of its sights and sounds, with the vertical levels of cognition connecting thoughts and visions into a mirroring mind’s landscape. This process is characterized in Keats, less so in Wordsworth and the other major Romantics, by (as Keats semi-famously wrote in one of his letters) its intensity. It is worth noting that prosody not heightened by the crescendo and decrescendo effect of deep emotion (the “where” parallel structure sequence in Nightingale, for example) has a quality of sag about it, however meticulous its rendering is— Wordsworth often has this problem. The blank verse rhythms of The Prelude, however stentorian, do not shudder or ripple along a vertical axis— they move gamely forward on a steady horizontal, without (even in the Snowdon episode) culminating in any cohesive, negatively capable expressive climaxes. Were Wordsworth to approach Snowdon in a Keatsian fashion, his represented physical ascent along a vertical axis (Snowdon itself) would need to find a greater sense of dynamic melopoeiac tension, bound together and then self-resolved, to mirror a greater sense of affective and cognitive intensity simultaneously.


Keats: Prosody: Grecian Urn

Among the Odes, Grecian Urn is rather famous for its interrogations of an inanimate object, a work of art, as though it was a sentient being, or a kind of sentience inhered in it. In Grecian Urn, we get, indeed, two sets of interrogations: into a generalized “what” (“what mad pursuit?/ “what struggle to escape?”), and into a generalized “who” (“Who are these coming to the sacrifice?”). An incision I’d like to make into narratives around the Odes, and specifically around Grecian Urn, has to do with the difference between the two interrogative pronouns in Keats (“what” and “who”), and why the difference is significant, both in our perception of Keats’ place among the Romantics and his Odes, and in metaphysics in poetry and major high art consonance generally. As to the significations, in Grecian Urn, of “who” (inverting the fact that it appears after “what” in the poem): I take the interrogations around “who” to suggest an appreciation (Keats’ appreciation) of humanity as knowable, decipherable in both their thoughts and in their activities, and as worthy of praise, when represented gracefully and rigorously, as anything or anyone else in the universe. Keats’ vision of humanity is horizontal: he looks directly at humans, and at the broadly “human,” along a horizontal axis which includes himself and his quotidian perceptions. The interrogations around “what” suggest something else, something transcendental and bordering the ineffable, and charted along a vertical axis: Keats’ relationship to art, to major high art consonance, and to what in it is sublime, and past being merely comforting and companionable, “post-human.”

As to what in Grecian Urn, and Keats Odes, binds him most firmly to the “what” of things, rather than the “who” of things: his visionary sense of the Urn itself is indicative, but it is the exquisite prosodic element of Keats’ language itself, its ornate scaffolding having been manifested from a power base of enormous intelligence, that replicates the exquisite “what” of the Grecian Urn itself, what is embedded on it, narratives and figures. In addition, the exquisite molding and scaffolding of Keats prosody can be taken as a representation of the enchanted forest itself, what in it is Other to human consciousness, what in it holds and maintains mysteries in the direction of humanity. This is a key idea in Keats, especially in relation to the other major Romantics— what exquisite prosody signifies, in/of itself— because Keats’ prosody is the major distinguishing characteristic of his best poetry over that of Wordsworth especially, Byron and Shelley certainly. If there is a direct causal link between the forest’s enchantment (as had been handed down to Keats from the Greeks, on the Grecian Urn and elsewhere) and the quality, ambience, and “what-ness” of Keats’ prosody, it reinforces the sense of the transcendentalism of the Odes and the odal cycle, and the fact that Keats’ critical reputation in century XX, which pegged him for a sensualist against transcendentalism, were investigating the Odes on a superficial level, against the kind of “deep hermeneutic” which finds pertinent significations in exquisite prosody itself.

Canyons Lined In Blue Waters

Canyons Lined In Blue Waters, four brief collections of Apparition Poems, has hit 175 downloads on IA and is now also on Open Library.


App 1300


On the trip I had one mind,
everyone else had twelve or
more, I maintained weight,
sat around doing nothing as I
wandered a baffling universe
of locked-in zeros spinning
all around the two talismans
that gave the apartment its
currents, Jimmy the Face,
Martha the Mask, and they
slayed all my enemies, countless
piles of shit, while fame gave
me bark to shave off and I
complained of mirrored graves.

Excavation and Recuperation: Open Library

In 2010, Desmond Swords wrote a brief, incisive piece on Apparition Poems which was permanently preserved on a UK List-Serve. Excavation and Recuperation, which explores this piece, has now passed 200 downloads on IA and so I have placed it, also, on Open Library. Many thanks again to Mr. Swords. 


Apparition Poem #1484


She drowns days in
bourbon, nests in bars
plucking feathers from
her rear end, shitting on
ugly girls beneath her—
I hover, also, listen to
her hum, as it rises over the
din, and like a coward keep
it to myself as I pass into
sunset, back to my own
nest, seeds scattered on bed.

Saturn on Internet Archive (Locked Account)

Saturn (and Saturn 2.0), the pdf which collects my first eight print books, has done remarkably well from my locked IA account. Many thanks to all my readers/downloaders.


More solid pushes

Also strong support at Saison Poetry Library at Southbank Centre for When You Bit, Opera Bufa, and Equations. Thanks again to them.


A solid push for AP

A solid push forward for Apparition Poems from Saison Poetry Library at Southbank Centre in London. Many thanks to them.

Apparition Poem #1176 (ATNG)


Your gut tells you when
something’s wrong— here
I am at war in darkness—
no moss over me, no
camouflage— I lean forward—
but oh the degenerate trenches,
so very boring, passion kept
to a minimum, fires aglow
never, and my guts fear
the soulless twerps, jealous
that I might be brought low
by some version of cripple’s
wisdom— Conshohocken—


Beethoven: First Movement: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor (Moonlight Sonata)


Philadelphia Independent Issue 15


...something else...

More from the wall format files: Dawn Gailey's pic of me in the Last Drop in 2008; Kelly McCabe's Ad-Shot in State College in '94; Amy King's of me reading in Brooklyn '07; and two anonymous portraits of Abs, in white and close-up.


The Wall Format Saga Continues...

New and wall-formatted on Internet Archive: a flier advertising my '02 spoken word opus Raw Rainy Fog; Mary Harju on Saint Catherine Street, Montreal; and in the Montreal Botanical Gardens; and another intimate close-up of Abs.


Couture anticipating Abs????

More Wall Format(s)

More wall formatted Internet Archive "prints": Molly's Books facade in South Philly, Jeremy's portrait of Mr. Land reading at Molly's, Abs in 2010, and a cool Pop riff on one of Jeremy's best fliers.

Anonymous Portrait: Mike Land

Mike Land: Anonymous Portrait


Jenny Kanzler/Sterling Shaw (Philly Painters in NYC)

from Philadelphia Spaces

from Philadelphia Spaces

from Against the Nothing Game


You bed down in a sty,
squeeze out your mind
like a rag, catch water
(usually greasy) in tins,
mix them up (murkiness
is not undesired), add an
edge of cyanide (or gin),
yet you know all the time
none of this will do much
good, or anything at all,
most of it is destined as
bricks in no wall, thus
does the blood spill, but
when you heal, how you
grab the sun & moon places
you where chemicals beg
your brain for admittance— 

Anonymous Portrait: Abby Heller-Burnham: 2010

Abby Heller-Burnham: Anonymous Portrait: 2010


from Otoliths 32: Tranny Dream

from Otoliths 32: Tranny Dream

Flier: Toiling in Obscurity (JET)

Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum: Flier: Toiling in Obscurity


from Otoliths 16: On the Philly Free School

from Otoliths 16: On the Philly Free School


Apparition Poem #1245


“You little paranoid bitch,
doesn’t it ever bother you
that you’re incapable of
having relationships? You
tell me you “feel awful all
the time,” don’t you think
there’s a reason for it?” As
I reach back, sip a hard drink,
that rage against her was the last
before her own skating fall
over thin Philly ice, hard blue
skies, big sun, & now this
I wrote looks warm, a kiss—