Intimacy: Conventional, Otherwise...

The quirkiness of Keats’ Odal Cycle as involves intimacy, “I-thou”; when Keats addresses the “you” in the Odes, it is almost always either an archetype or an imaginative creation. Keats does not directly address any other human beings. It is left to his readers to decide for ourselves whether we can accept this approach; whether there is or can be any real intimacy between Keats and Psyche, or a Grecian Urn, or a nightingale, etc. Because the Odes are legitimately visionary, i.e. they create, consolidate, and perpetuate an imaginative vision of human reality both complex enough and self-contained enough to be seen to constitute a complex, self-contained vision, the choice, as ever with visionary major high art consonant art, is whether to accept this vision or not. The magnificence of Keats’ prosody is one reason to accept Keats’ vision; that the prosody stands for or signifies that the vision, of intimacy with things and imaginative vistas rather than with people, is real, wholesome, and genuine. On the other hand, some audiences may decide that Keats getting overheated about urns and nightingales falls under the narrative-thematic aegis of the adolescent, and that the prosodic richness of the Odes only partly compensates for the gravitas that is lost in ecstasy, euphoria, and the passionate élan of unbridled imaginative sensuousness.

The Cheltenham Elegies replace euphoria with resignation. In this humanistic context, all the “I-thou” textual energy is aimed conventionally, at other people, be they living or dead (this, we do not always know). What is meant to be mind-bending in the Elegies is dramatic intensity and shifting perspectives, even as the Elegies’ prosody is not as rich as the Odes’. With Shelley and Adonais, we have a vision of almost complete alienation, of Shelley investigating the dry-ice “I-he” or “I-it” perspective in nightmarish vignette after vignette. Shelley’s vision is the most materialistic of the three, and (potentially) the most difficult to stomach— that death has absolutely cut off any intimacy he might have achieved with John Keats, that Keats is absolutely gone to him, and that Keats’ corpse is a fetish for Shelley of raw, insensate meat and nothing else. Euphoria and resignation are answered here with searing agony and horror; and, also (as with Keats), a sense of a kind of textual Mannerism, which exaggerates quirks, extends textual limbs into contorted positions, bends reality out of shape (all the necrophilia, the personification of Death), and makes materialism morph, in a manner which may be seen as either seductive or nauseating, into a kind of hyper-materialistic inferno-world. Neither Adonais nor the Odes tackle humanity head-on the way the Elegies do. Whether this counts for the Elegies or against depends on any reader’s given taste for humanism and human intimacy in its most pure, least torqued manifestations.   


Alienation and Apparition Poems

The progression of Apparition Poems, as a literary text, into Cheltenham, I have noticed, also constitutes a small cycle or mini-cycle. If one perspective which dominates Apparition Poems is the relationship between a poetic “I,” a first-person singular perspective, and a third person Other (“she” or “they”), and if what this expresses is a certain amount of alienation (the more intimate perspective being the second person, “you” or “thou”), then we may perceive how this alienation, tied in by temporal constraints to the Great Recession, leads from Apparition Poems to Elegy 261 and the other Cheltenham Elegies. One prominent cumulative effect of the mini-cycle, is the impression of a protagonist trying to understand how Center City Philadelphia has lost its Aughts luster, its potentiality for I-thou intimacy, and became a kind of dead zone, not much elevated over Old York Road at midnight. Old York Road at midnight is, indeed, hidden in the textual peaks and troughs of Apparition Poems, with its motif of “wolf’s hour” dimensionality. Why the Cheltenham Elegies, with their backwards glance, must reclaim the intimate territory of “I-thou” for this protagonist, is to surmount the vast entropy/decimation effect of the Recession, and to (by accomplishing this) restore a vested sense both of humanity and of human dignity. Elegy 261 thus constitutes a textual sea-change, wedged between Apparition Poems and the remainder of the Elegiac Cycle; and a re-colonization of lost narrative-thematic ground:

Never one to cut corners about cutting
corners, you spun the Subaru into a rough
U-turn right in the middle of Old York Road
at midnight, scaring the shit out of this self-
declared “artist.” The issue, as ever, was
nothing particular to celebrate. We could
only connect nothing with nothing in our
private suburban waste land. Here’s where
the fun starts— I got out, motherfucker.
I made it. I say “I,” and it works. But Old
York Road at midnight is still what it is.
I still have to live there the same way you do.

Perspectives established in 261 create a bridge into established dialogues and meta-dialogues which move past the generalized alienation of Apparition Poems, into a realm of physical/metaphysical specificity, which can create alternate impressions, either colder and harder, or warmer and softer, than the bulk of Apparition Poems. This sense— the Elegiac Cycle both ascending above and descending below Apparition Poems— makes Apparition Poems, as a text, appear to establish and maintain a sort of stasis, even as the alienation effect oscillates, sometimes drastically, from poem to poem.

It is also worth noting that when the earmarks of intimacy do manifest in Apparition Poems, as in 1550:

I’m in your house:
your husband, kids
not home. A voice
(yours) follows me
around, playing on
my body, until I’m
in your bathroom,
smoking butts on

a sunny spring day.
Your body doesn’t
appear. It seems to
me you’re suspect,
Steph, it seems to
me you want too
much. Then, you
always said I was

a dreamer. What
do we have past
dreams anyway?
What else is love?

there is the sense of a lived past impinging on a lived present, and only the poetic elegiac or backwards glance allows the comfort and security of profound intimacy or humanity, in  decimated/entropic moments. When a poetic perspective is created from what is perceived as a decimated present, what textual options arise must have to do with searching for other temporal currents which might lead to richness meriting representation. A decimated landscape, meriting a decimated perspective (the subject or protagonist decimated psychically and/or affectively), takes consciousness (potentially, and sometimes) to a place where truth-consonance leads securely to I-It (or, as in Apparition Poems, I-she). Elegy 261 is set in place as a kind of door, from a decimated present into a different kind of stasis-space, both tactile and evanescent, that is Cheltenham’s physical/metaphysical, life/psyche-consuming presence in the world. If Cheltenham takes the artist out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire, he at least gets to create and manifest cohesion and cohesiveness in his consciousness as regards the totality of his life and experiences. After Apparition Poems, the quest for cohesion and coherence is on, and all roads lead back to the subject’s first experience, both of real darkness and of real intimacy. Alienation in Apparition Poems becomes resignation in Cheltenham; and both become the skeleton key to a level of consciousness, visible in the Great Recession/Under the Knife poems,  which can assimilate alienation and resignation past the subjective, and transmute them into suitably dark, suitably complex texts: dialogic, meta-dialogic.


Beyond Meta-Dialogism

Among the possible phenomenological circumstances meta-dialogism must account for— when a distinct, cohesive voice within an individual’s consciousness manifests, but the voice is (here) of an Other. If the voice is not the voice of the subject, credibility becomes an issue, and with it a relevant phenomenological inquiry— can a given subject channel the voice of an Other with accuracy, so that a distinct “Other” voice is also a credible one within his/her consciousness? Elegy 268 posits this inquiry without offering an answer:

Satin blouses, trinkets (some kind of
jade pendant), & the big trinket between
her legs that nobody gets to play with.
Rare meat. She’s been babied by her
parents since her birth (Rabbit year,
a juxtaposition more sad than ironic),
and suddenly I can teach her something?
And I thought of what she was telling
herself in response, and the words came
to me, “I’m doing this because I promised,
my Mom wants me to do this, now I promised, I have to do this.”

This inquiry also sets in place a novel facet of meta-dialogism— distinct, cohesive voices within an individual’s consciousness which are nonetheless generated from without, rather than from within. In practice: when the “words come” to the Elegiac Protagonist in 268 (“I’m doing this because I promised…”), and he (we assume) is channeling the doomed, rich brat who is the subject of the Elegy, where exactly do the words come from? The Elegy does seem to imply that the woman being addressed is simple enough (and a naïf enough) that to channel her voice would not be much of a challenge for the Protagonist. This returns us precisely to a point already made about Elegy 414— the Elegies, as a series, invite us to examine the phenomenological issue of how much, or to what extent, humans can (for want of a more graceful phrase) infiltrate, inhabit, and colonize each other’s brains. Or: to what extent individual consciousness is permeable, both to be assimilated into the consciousness of Others and to assimilate what may hover “in the air,” the consciousness of Others. This takes phenomenology (from the Elegies on out) into a realm of mysticism, possibly against empiricism, its standards of measurement— yet there is nowhere else for the inquiry to go.

However, as seen in 268, the function of meta-dialogism in an individual consciousness is seen to change— rather than being strictly self-contained, it is involved in processes (of assimilation, of imitation) beyond itself, and beyond the boundaries of conventional subjectivity. This perceived mysticism or post-subjectivism, inhering in meta-dialogism, incorporating distinct voices of Others “owned” by the subject as phenomenological “assets,” becomes an intangible force, another way or manner of realizing the reality (mystical or not) of the human world. Significantly, it is a spiritualized world, however elegiac, for the Elegiac Protagonist, multi-dimensional, various, and angled against the “inertness model” which constitutes Cheltenham’s surface of appearances. This, indeed, is what a Cheltenham subject may own, against Cheltenham— the mobility of developed, multifarious consciousness. This consciousness chafes against both the inertness of Cheltenham’s manifested appearances (in 268, a frigid, frozen-into-place family context) and imposes a multi-dimensional perception of human life on Cheltenham’s rigid, mourned-for singularity.

The Cogito in 268 for the Elegiac Protagonist (his “I think”) is exercised for the imaginative purpose of making real to himself seedy, materialistic lives (including, quite possibly, and in part, his own)— and the process of reifying these lives, for the Protagonist, shifts him into the elegiac consciousness-space, the apotheosis of using one’s mind to configure the mindless. The problem with Cheltenham’s mindless, repetitive rituals is that they do involve subtlety, and nuance; it is just that the participants are not supposed to register this. If they do, the hypnotic spell of inert matter dissipates into the nothingness of self-perceived, self-avowed deterioration, decay, and psycho-affective dissolution; the inversion of 4325 Baltimore Avenue into absolute monochrome, and Twisted Limbs into a hideous, desolate mess. Cheltenham’s inert surface is there to be clung to, against sinister under and over-currents, and, as a physical/metaphysical site, is its own nothingness place. Both dialogism and meta-dialogism are enemies to this surface, as is any sense of cognitive discipline in any inhabitant at all. Everything in Cheltenham has been established to isolate the individual, and consolidate inert depths with inert surfaces, both in individual and in group (often family) contexts. The nuances and subtleties of Cheltenham-as-system are all sophisticated, established routines towards homogenization, surface maintenance, and eventual decimation of individual human lives. So seems the routine in 268— a set of issues raised, and a context generated, to humiliate many parties at once. Still: if the Elegiac Protagonist is able to add another voice to his repertoire, the game is not necessarily completely a nothingness game for him.


Meta-Dialogism and Elegy 260

The opening salvo of Cheltenham Elegy 260 is an image both tactile and subtle enough to convey the vagaries of a certain kind of teenage life in the American suburbs— the Elegiac Protagonist, “too stoned to find the bathroom,” pissing on a tree-trunk in the backyard of a friend of a friend:

I was too stoned to find the bathroom.
The trees in the dude’s backyard made
it look like Africa. You were my hook-up
to this new crowd. The same voice, as always,
cuts in to say you were fucked up even
then. You had a dooming Oedipal
complex. We were all wrapped tight,
even when we got high. I was the
only one getting any, so you both
mistrusted me. African trees & easy
camaraderie. A primitive pact sealed
between warring factions— my spears
(take this as you will) for your grass.

That the trees look “African” is clearly the byproduct of his intoxication. Dramatic tensions inhere— does the third party here, an unfamiliar, approve of his tree-trunk being pissed on? Of even more interest is a textual moment which bridges the chasm between the Bakhtinian dialogism discussed in the Elegies recently and the phenomenological tensions explored in the Elegies earlier this year— “the same voice, as always/ cuts in to say you were fucked up even/ then. You had a dooming Oedipal/complex.” This constitutes the manifestation, in a first person narrative voice, of a precise, coherent, fully realized second voice; in it, the realization of a second complete character, dramatic interest intact, within the first. The textual stance of the Elegiac Protagonist must appear layered, because the complexities of his character encompass a multitude of voices which may be channeled through him at any moment. This phenomenological tension— the exploration of the narrative first person singular, its potentialities not only to contain multitudes, but to manifest precise, cohesive voices out of this multifarious consciousness— creates the possibility of meta-dialogism, the interstitial communication of complex data within a single character or consciousness. A perceived stability— the “same” voice— establishes the dynamic of meta-dialogism as a defense mechanism against the bewildering congeries of appearances which constitute Cheltenham’s “game face” to the world. Competing voices in a single consciousness arise out of situations which manifest such extreme surface/depth tensions/abrasions that they can only be processed accurately with a repertoire of cohesive voices in tow.

So it is in Elegy 260— the Protagonist’s second manifested voice is there specifically to assert depth— that the smooth phenomenological surface (a dope deal, African trees, “easy camaraderie”) belies other voices (Oedipal ones) which render the Other in the poem (the same Other, we assume, as in 261) both impotent sexually and generally ineffectual. The Elegiac Protagonist is sexually potent, and mistrusted for it; his “cock out” routine in the Elegy’s opening vignette amounts to an assertion of physical confidence. This receives a mirroring algorithm at the Elegy’s conclusion regarding the Protagonist’s intellect— “my spears…for your grass” suggests that the bartering process involves thoughts, plans, stratagem, and the recompense of drugs for them. The textual back-lighting also shades the situation to suggest that the Protagonist has been brought in as a hired hand, to employ the “spears” of his intellect towards finding a solution to whatever the stalemated, drug-related situation is. As in 261, the hero/anti-hero Other (or brother) figure in the Elegies drags the Elegiac Protagonist into a dangerous, possibly life-threatening situation (the rough u-turn in Old York Road being a compacted version of this drug contretemps), and the suburban façade of placidity is disrupted severely by the tasks being fulfilled by its inhabitants.

This congeries, which creates a practical/tactile base for the emergence of meta-dialogism in the Protagonist, is both complex and a complex (psychological hindrance), to be endured by those placed/situated to endure it. What the function or purpose of meta-dialogism is for the Elegiac Protagonist, is both a coping mechanism and a phenomenological quirk which facilitates recognition, no matter how beleaguered, that the human world is real, and that everything which happens to him in Cheltenham really is happening. The only way to give human reality a stable voice, from within one consciousness, is to develop several distinct voices. The Protagonist’s meta-dialogism takes the world (Cheltenham-as-stage) and solidifies it, against the wonted suburban impulse to nullify human experience/reality via outright denial, and the adoption of singular, indistinct first person perspectives.  


This Property is Condemned: Elegy 671

How lighting effects are used, both in theater productions and in movies, can drastically effect how we view characters and their actions. An individual can be lit to look effective or ineffective, sensuous or plain, emotionally well-rounded or flat, sans affect, and drab. In the context of the Cheltenham Elegies, textual devices are often used as lighting effects, lending splendor, ambiguity, or psychological nuance to both the Elegiac Protagonist and the ancillary protagonists arrayed around him. How, for example, the protagonist of Elegy 671 is “backlit” creates a warped, funhouse scenario, wherein everything about him is called into question, so that, by the end, confusion reigns and we have witnessed another textual self multiply. This inscribes in the poem the same dialogism in 671 we saw in 415:

Even as a little girl, she got beat down.
There was something wrong with her brains.
She couldn't relate to people. Cheltenham
guys noticed how adorably doll-like she was
(lookin’ real good, like Natalie Wood), but she
wouldn't date anyone. She died a mysterious
social drowning death. She got older and
became a Tennessee Williams heroine-as-Jewess.
I'm telling you this because I nailed her, dude.
I got her to give me a blowjob.

The first thing we notice as a textual lighting effect is that the relationship between this protagonist and the woman he is blazoning (after a fashion) is unclear. For all that the blazon (or semi-blazon) seems to be his, there is a scripted quality to it, and a rehearsed quality as well, suggesting that the entire blazon might have been composed by the woman in question herself. The reason would be simple, and shady— the two, the protagonist and his muse, are business partners, in cahoots towards the completion of illicit tasks, and ceremonious about their communications, linguistic or otherwise. The protagonist is, indeed, configured (backlit) to appear ceremonious, delivering his semi-blazon towards a climax not only absurd, but camp, in the Sontagian manner/fashion. The image of a “Tennessee Williams heroine-as-Jewess” may or may not refer to Natalie Wood in “This Property Is Condemned,” but the reference points (Tennessee Williams, Jewishness) have some associative relevance to gayness and gay culture.

A new form of dialogism in 671— precursor to “I’m telling you this…,” there is the entrance of an offstage voice, asking the protagonist why this particular, ham-fisted speech, blazon or not, needs to be delivered. The protagonist is thus caught out, and the lighting effects around him change; now he is lit to appear as absurd as the blazon or blazon script he’s been delivering. Put on the spot, and lit to appear that way, what the protagonist anti-heroically blurts out instills a final, climactic ambiguity, both around his possible gayness and whatever shady joint undertakings have already transpired— is the avowed head-giving literal, or just a metaphor for our heroine’s business deals having expanded towards a generous, ceremonious inclusion of the protagonist? The point of how the Cheltenham Elegies are generally lit is that nothing is let to appear stark or plain— voices collide with other voices, or intercede beyond other voices; images and perspectives are constantly shifting, even from or within first-person perspectives; and the singularity of the Elegiac vision is founded on a “multiplicity” textual paradigm. Unlike many of the Elegies, 671 is not set at night— the time/space coordinates are indeterminate— but the lighting effects, some bright, some dim, make clear that darkness and shade are as present as ever. If 671 is, in fact, an elegy (albeit one which, uncharacteristically, includes bawdy humor), it is an elegy which laments that dramatic conventions (scripts, blazons, metaphors) prevent Cheltenham characters from manifesting moments of truth with/for each other. Cheltenham dramas are lit to appear flaky, stagy, corny (staged corny moments), and hitched to a stilted version of camp (at least in 671) which makes, habitually, the actual truth of situations both indecipherable, and, unfortunately, irrelevant as well.  


Dialogism and Elegy 415

The cast of characters introduced by the Cheltenham Elegies invites interrogation on all levels. It is not merely that the dramatic intricacies between characters are awash, sodden with ambiguities; what Bakhtin calls dialogism, the sense of interplay, in works of literary art, between multiple voices, which manifest dualities within or against the integrity of individual works, is acutely present. Once it is acknowledged why and how the dialogism in the Elegies functions (always to add richness and nuance to the dual sense of Cheltenham as both a physical locale, objectively existing in standard space/time coordinates, and a metaphysical stage, subjectively existing in the individualized space/time coordinates of individuals, affirming both substance and essence and lack thereof), the interactions, abrasive or supportive, between the various, plaintive voices (if the Elegies have an analogue in Keats’ Odal Cycle, it is Nightingale) can move into focus as another textual site. They are a drama being performed on the physical/metaphysical stage that is Cheltenham, which is a stage both solid and evanescent. Yet, what angles we see of the actors are always dependent on textual “lighting effects,” which add to the sense of ambiguity, and both ambiguity’s potential enchantment and its eerie, debilitating darkness. In Elegy 415, for instance:

There’s something sweet and sickly
about teenagers fucking. Even laid
down by the jagged rocks that bordered
Tookany Creek. I think of them there,
and know he’s getting wasted. What’s
draining out of him is the will to live.
She always gets him off somehow. Then
they would walk over to the Little League
field and huddle in the dugout. He didn’t
even wind up graduating from Cheltenham
on time. I can’t get over thinking who he
could’ve been. Am I the only one?

The idea, among various conjectures, that this particular protagonist is both a first-person narrator and also the fallen, manhandled victim being referred to in the third-person, is a relevant one, creating a sense, within the dialogism of the Elegies, that single characters are allowed to generate multiplications of themselves within the poems, out of the emptiness or hollowness of their own solitude. This is a motif in the Elegies which takes Bakhtin’s conception or formulation and torques it more towards metaphysics than Bakhtin perhaps intended— the acknowledgement, first, that individual consciousness can encompass, within its confines, multiple voices. Or, that dialogism subsists between competing voices within the consciousness-space of autonomous individuals. Then, that the manifestation of these competing voices in the work of literary art, their (as it were) eruption into text, manifesting a new “set” on the stage which is Cheltenham, and what Cheltenham is. The dialogism between Cheltenham itself and its voices creates a complex mandala with the various voices manifested by autonomous protagonists in the Elegies; and the crux of the mandala is to create and sustain drama within the Elegiac Cycle.

Within the Cycle, Elegy 415 stands as a signification of dramatic tension and ambiguity, around the metaphysical import of a voice which initiates a dialogue which may or may not constitute a meta-dialogue. One inversion of these usages— the attitude and atmosphere of the Elegies is not carnivalesque, but an anti-carnival. The atmosphere embodies an assortment of rides and swings whose purport is a purgatory for souls, or (as an analogue) the purgation of ghosts, phantoms, and demons from individuals who dare to pass through it. This Cheltenham carnival/anti-carnival of souls is a ghostly or shadowed one. As is typical, the ghost presence in Elegy 415 is merely a multiplication of the protagonist’s presence from the first into the third person— and this metaphysical imbroglio moves Bakhtin into a space in which dialogism evinces dramatic tensions which enumerate that dialogism itself can manifest from fathomless depths and beleaguered subjectivity (rather than a more conventional third-person omniscient perspective), as well as from carnival impulses issuing from the multiplication of surfaces.


from Posit (title poem)

I want
but that’s
nothing new.

I posit
no boundary
between us.

I say you,
I know you,
I think so.

I know
what world
is worldly.

I know
how death
stays alive.

I never
enter third
person places.

I could
go on


from Beams: Silk

if I could fashion a fashion from fashion

your fabric fluttered over my chest
styled slacks pressed the length of Chelsea

shapely shadows arrayed over cheekbones
shutters would close on our revelations

hair askew, damp in rouge-red blood-flow

a fashion past the lips of limitation
defined not to distinguish or over-vogue

but to green silk that had been dusky
and to tease out each stark blue

behind eye-lined, sky-lined walls of rigidity


Best of the PFS Flickr Set: Preface ('13)

We, as an artistic community in Philadelphia in the Aughts, went out of our way not to stay on the surface. We wanted to create art which had some depth to it. As such, the tendency in Philly for us was not to put too much effort into our appearances. We dressed casual, and offhand. It just so happens that many of us were also photogenic. What animates this collection (and raises it above the level of La Boheme meets Beverly Hills 90210) is that many Free School artists were also competent photographers; particularly Mary Harju and Abby Heller-Burnham. The trio of Mary Harju paintings herein included make their own statement— “The Fall” is a testament to the vicissitudes of my relationship with Ms. Harju, and her absolute formal proficiency; her self-portrait, “The Vessel,” demonstrates the raw courage of the best confessional art, drowned in luscious Spanish coloration; and her 2007 portrait of me explores the subject’s devilish androgyny and the issue of who the witch is and who’s being bewitched. The inclusion of Abby Heller-Burnham’s masterful urban mood piece, “The Skaters,” is meant to lead curious viewers to her entire oeuvre; and her photo portraits of me (alone and with Mary, which is on the cover here) demonstrate that a serious painter’s facility can be successfully applied to taking quality photos as well. Mary had the same knack, as her stark black and white portrait of me in Clark Park in West Philadelphia shows. Many of the anonymous portraits here are also stunning— the sleek moodiness of Mike Land at the Last Drop, and the loopy insouciance the camera caught from deep-in-his-cups Nick Gruberg.

In some ways, Center and West Philly architecture speaks for itself— the facades pictured here are elegant and decrepit in equal measure. The atmosphere generated is almost Parisian, which brings to light another Philadelphia Gemini (I have elsewhere ascribed the sun sign Gemini to Philly) contradiction— often portrayed by the American press as ugly or gritty, its architecture aligns it more with the nicer sections of western Europe. The portraits in this collection are all expressive— Matt Stevenson’s brusque ragamuffin exterior is unmistakable, as is Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum’s Neo-Romantic decadence and the dark punkishness of the Bad News Bats. That’s a key element of the entire Flickr set— darkness. Not that we were ones to mope; just that we, as a collective, preferred to dwell (as most serious artists do) on the dark side of things. The strangeness of this conglomerate of artists is profound— that we shared a vision which not only chafed against the rest of the Philadelphia art community but against the entire history of indigenous American art, all in the unselfconscious spirit of youth, and from one urban heart of America. On a fundamental level, we didn’t know who we were or what we were doing, and we benefited from this lack of knowledge. Had we known what the odds against us were, we might’ve been stymied; but the fertility of the Center City scene sheltered us, and we were able to persevere. Darkness and innocence are strangely mixed in the Philly Free School— as is queerness and straightness. Those of us who weren’t queer were queer in spirit. The queerness we shared was a taste for shadows, apparitions, multiple meanings, and a passionate engagement with art’s Collective Unconscious.


Comment on Bradenton Poet's Echo Chamber

The trigger for this piece of writing was a pseudo-personal public update published in the social-media phasebuke echo-chamber of Florida Bradenton's Bethany Pope. An academic poetry doctor, Faulkner-Wisdom Awards finalist, and author of A Radiance, and a forthcoming collection, Persephone in the Underworld. Resident in Swindon, England, she wrote, 'Oh sweet, suffering Jesus'; telling the public she was unable to get a refund from Amazon after downloading a kindle book that was full of 'the most asinine and idiotic' 'notes written by Oprah', that she couldn't turn off: 'When I saw this sentence I was compelled to carry on'. Dear sweet Lord Jesus, Merciful Buddha, Tender Vishnu, SOMEBODY save me from this horror before I throw my kindle clear across the room.'

The conversation below it consists of very short single-line comments that range from, what seems, or could be contextualized without much real effort to seem, as asinine as the Oprah note Pope evinced as proof of another writer's idiocy.

The first comment to strike this reader's ear as sounding, in a purely literary sense, somewhat asinine on the page, is: 'Try asking Oprah for compensations for a laugh.' The humour here can be read either way. It could mocking Pope, or be genuinely trying to cheer her up over the money, that, at this point, before receiving a refund (the subject of a further public update), Pope believed she'd lost.

The conversation then quickly took a negative turn when the contributor that made the joke about asking Oprah for a refund, wrote:

 'I would put a review up saying how terrible these notes are. Might warn others.'

I didn't forensically analyse the forty-two comment stream there, but quickly grasped, scrolling and skim-reading the one line aphoristic comments; that after a few one-line notes performed in a tone of annoyed disapproval, the bulk of the exchange turns into a series of one lines condescendingly mocking as supremely distasteful those that claim not to read much poetry themselves, but who write and read their own in public. An innocuous and mundane conversation consisting of comedic comments and tones of displeasure, irritation and complaint; that became a trigger for one's own writing and response to it published here.  

'In the past two decades the publishing model has been utterly inverted. We've gone, historically speaking, very briefly from one extreme to the other. Twenty years ago if one wanted to become a published poet it took a lot of extremely hard work and dedication. Writing writing writing until eventually one is writing so much a voice readers recognise emerges. And though the odds were more than a one in a thousand chance of a fairy god-editor plucking from a slush pile the first manuscript you sent out, when you plugged away one eventually connected with a coterie of like-minded poetry lovers and writers, producing, when compared with today, a tiny amount of store-quality publications.

The whole business of getting a manuscript into printed book form was far more expensive and time-consuming than now. Someone wanting to publish their own books twenty years ago would spend years learning the many different roles needed to go from a hand or type-written fistful of poems, to a shiny new attractive publication. And the vast majority of poetry books that were published, unless it was by a corporate press, had very little-to-nothing in the way of advertising and getting the word out even regionally about their poems for sale.

It was a very socially lonely time for most poets, unlike today; with no way - unless one had millions of pounds to buy air time and pay for commercials - of reaching in print the millions of book-buying people all over the globe we take for granted are the audience and customers we can instantly connect with today. And all the things that were then in the hands of a very few globally powerful editors, are now at the fingertips of everyone. We are, finally, all on a level playing field, professionally, in relation to the publishing and business side of selling poems; because anyone with an internet connection can decide we are an independent po-biz editor, and within hours be publishing and selling books worldwide. We can create in a week what previously took years of dedicated learning, continual slog, rejection, learning and experience; not to mention many thousands of pounds, and tens of thousands of hours of writing. And the powerful attraction to that profoundly playful source of our own writing, which we're blessed to be born with in the digital age 

There has been a revolution throughout the world, in publishing, and culturally, in the way we communicate, and in how one can present ourself in public as someone whose language the Reader can trust the words of when it comes to English poetry.

If one is English it helps, when speaking, virtually, in America, to drop the reserve, one finds, and get stuck in trolling and trash-talking with fellow Americans in that uniquely global capitalist poetic culture we share online. When one restricts one's vision to the purely domestic realms, the free back and forth conversational flow rarely reaches the anything-goes post-avant level of linguistic exchange and open craic one experiences when in the thick of debate with fellow N. Americans.

I think this is because we English are very much a product of our birth status in a multi-tiered Class and Honour System, that can be very spiritually challenging and difficult to get our head round when we are one of the 99% of English people born outside it. A child of immigrants, without a title, only with what can be subtly contextualised as that most culturally distasteful of things by posh-sounding snobs performing in letters little more than a disapproving one-line note and tone of voice; the openly working-class English voice speaking from the English Republic of Letters; in which everyone is welcome and free to write whatever the heck ye goddam wanna. Issuing not the short and snarky superior literate ejections that reveal an entire intellectual apparatus built of falsehood, fear and envy; but an honest voice.

Cheers ears.

May your hair grow golden and your heart be filled with joy
May your eyes always see and your ears detect duende
May your mouth sing from the soles of the feet up highest

May your hand and head together make the greatest poetry.

Preface: Nine Paintings ('13)

In the continuum of visual art, an oeuvre of nine paintings is not particularly significant unless the nine paintings happen to be masterpieces. With Philadelphia painter Abby Heller-Burnham, this appears to be the case. The limited oeuvre here on display encompasses a dazzling array of formal and thematic material— precise attention to painterly nuance and detail balanced with an idiosyncratic (intermittently “queer”) vision of urban life in early twenty-first century America. A painting like “The Skaters” embodies this vision— the moody chiaroscuro of the scene, its ambience of desolation, which is a specifically urban (in this case, Philadelphian) ambience; balanced with meticulous formal execution which is nonetheless skewered against conventional painterly representation; create a complex construct which is too formal to be aligned with post-modernism, but also both too dark and too strange to be aligned with middle-of-the-road pictorial art.

To be short; “The Skaters,” and Heller-Burnham’s other masterpieces, are something new under the sun. All are illuminated by the painter’s keen and quirky sense of multiple meanings, of representations whose import multiplies when observed closely and carefully. “The Walls Have Ears” presents a maze of possible meanings and levels of interpretation— the most obvious level concerns sexualized love between women; but the picture finds many ways of being queer, as the games it plays with identities and perspectives are blisteringly intense and complex. It’s a complexity which doesn’t disavow absurdist humor and irony. Compared with what is typically seen in New York galleries, it’s a narrative feast. Many of these paintings are narrative feasts— “The Lost Twins” could be taken as an art-related allegory, or a critique of allegories; a humorous indictment of the process of artistic canonization, or a humorous portrayal of the artist’s vulnerability in the face of time and canonization; a self-portrait, or a parody of self-portraits; or all of these things at once.

This is what Heller-Burnham’s paintings have which has frequently been missing from New York art; a sense of absolute formal and thematic richness, and of boundlessness in richness, resultant from the exercise of intense (newly, American) imagination. “On the Other Hand” is a narrative feast in another direction— the social mores of American “indie” culture meeting the transcendental religiosity of Renaissance painting. The juxtaposition is bizarre, and uncanny— it collapses many centuries together in a novel way, to lampoon hipster culture; but this lampoon is executed with the absolute technical authority and mastery of the Renaissance masters themselves, and so winds up transcending its status as a lampoon. Not since Picasso has a visual artist fulfilled this many imperatives at once— that the painter is female, and queer, is a triumph both for American art and American feminism. Yet, Heller-Burnham’s scope as an artist is too broad to be tied wholesale either to formalism, the American (in its novel Philadelphian form) or queer politics— as with all superior artists, there is a universality to her creations broad enough to align her with the most durable humanism. If the oeuvre of her masterworks is small, it is a smallness which the paintings themselves belie— each painting represents an incision into the aesthetic consciousness of the West in 2013. Like Picasso, Heller-Burnham has her way of enacting phallocentrism— and her uncompromising originality is as brutish in its sharpness. Heller-Burnham not only enacts, but is, an American artistic revolution.


Trish: Preface ('13)

For those of us born in the 70s and 80s, who lived through the Aughts in Center City and West Philadelphia, our perception of Philadelphia will always be skewered by the sexualized over and undercurrents which animated, charged, and lit the Philly arts scene on fire with sexual energy during that time. Many of us were annoyed by the misconception the media created of a not-fully-sexed Philadelphia; but we were disarmed on that level. I have said elsewhere, and it bears repeating, that if the city of Philadelphia has a sun sign it is Gemini. It is another way of saying this: Philadelphia from within looks and feels vastly different than Philadelphia seen in a cursory way or from a distance. The sultriness around our scene was warmer and more human than the scenes we had all read about in New York and L.A.: we weren’t motivated by money or dope deals as such, or the desire to create and maintain images of/for ourselves. The hot blood that ran through McGlinchey’s, Dirty Frank’s, the Good Dog, and all our other hang out venues had some actual romance in it; we all went so far as to care about other people. The Gemini twist, as ever for Philadelphia, is that if the seeds we plant ripen correctly, Philadelphia may go on record as one of the hottest scenes in the history of the arts, thus overturning a century of bad press, neglect, abuse, and widely spread misinformation, and a corrupt arts-dissemination system with it.

Art and life have a way of co-mingling which can be difficult to finesse for an author. Because I dared to place her image on the cover of this book/pdf, I might as well announce what will be obvious to those who knew me and the Philly scene during the Aughts: the female protagonist of "Trish" is modeled on Philadelphia painter Mary Harju. The life I built with Mary (and with the Philly Free School) was highly unusual; we were artists without being rich kid dilettantes or drug decoys; lovers without being mutually exclusive; Penn students and graduates who went out of our way not to be academic; and human beings who tossed and turned on our own emotional waves without trying to fake balance or calm. It was a scattered life we had, and a haphazard one; but the love and affection we shared was genuine. In fact, if I have ever had a Laura or a Beatrice, it is Mary. The difference, of course, between myself and Plutarch and Dante, is that Mary and I consummated our relationship very fast. The heat we had for each other never quite let up, either. The picture on the cover here was snapped at a party thrown at Mary’s house (4325 Baltimore Avenue) in the early Aughts. That house was an experience in itself— it was filled, always, with artists, musicians, and other bohemians. On certain nights, everyone in the house would be intoxicated on something or other. Many nights I spent there, I felt as if the entire house had ascended into deep space, into some other, more germane part of the universe than West Philadelphia. I have memories of floating down hallways and stairs. Mary was a wonderful playmate and an excellent mate in general. She was never boring. And, to the extent that I hope this piece conveys the intense electric excitement I felt in her presence, it is a reminder that these elevated feelings are always possible, even during a Great Recession. It is the Gemini stare of Philadelphia down the barrel of a shotgun.


UK Poetry Magazine's National Conversation Failure.

Magma poetry magazine is a UK Arts Council subsidised publication that bills itself 'one of Britain’s leading poetry magazines', claiming it is 'more than a magazine, but 'a community of people, open to everyone passionate about celebrating a wide mix of poetry.'

This year it is undertaking what it calls a 'National Conversation'  'designed to provoke thought, ignite debate and encourage all of us to move deeper into the art form.'

However on Magma's Facebook page, that consists of little more than the odd link to articles elsewhere, and which, accepting on face value its claim of promoting healthy robust 'national conversation' and debate, should welcome contrary opinions; this response to a link posted there yesterday (6 July 2015) to a pdf article from the current Poetry Review issue (Summer 2005) by Jack Underwood on Jennifer L Knox, was immediately hidden from public view, and, rather than being deleted, was made visible only to my Desmond Swords and All Ireland Poetry Slam Facebook accounts.

Interesting because it reveals the mentality of whoever's editing the Magma Facebook page. Rather than delete the comment and be upfront and honest about their editorial practice and where they really stand on those that take a contrary position, they attempted to give the impression to me that the comment was publicly visible, in keeping with their much publicised National Conversation, which the non-exclusionary and inclusive language blurbing the ethos of it ostensibly claims to be all about.

I only discovered this after writing and publishing the comment, by using another Facebook account I use for the uncovering of such social-media duplicity by those claiming they're all about fostering freely expressed dialogue and critical conversation, when they are clearly not.


I am not a huge fan of either poets' writing, because I think that the language of their 'poems' is very overrated and much closer to that found in quirky narrative prose anecdotes with the odd poetic flourish. Reliant wholly on that irony of speaking tone that can only be written by the very young unable to recognise that 'ironic voice' alone does not transmute the pedestrian prose it is speaking into some sort of high-poetic intelligent comedy-magic on the page just because a few people bray loudly at their own in-jokes.

That we're encouraged to believe, by a few well placed editors and their supporters, as having a cutting-edge conceptual pedigree wholly new and exciting to the English line. Don't read the words literally, we are urged, but think of them as being really great ironically rendered poetry arising out from some kind of deeply intellectual and experimentally innovative literary play by England's finest new poetry custodians being all very American.

Championed and peddled by a handful of editors as the latest seismic innovation in post-pomo English poetry that has escaped its factional British Poetry Revival antecedent and is now an inclusive come all ye mainstream variety of the New. But of course is really reliant on little else but a sub-Monty Pythonesque crazee narrative tone and shock-value voice that is all very middle-class and connects with very few readers, but a handful of smugly self-congratulatory nerds and geeks who find this sort of thing funny.

Underwood quotes extensively from Knox, but in my ear it all sounds very anti-intellectual, depressingly childish and banal. This line being pretty much standard fare: “Hey check out that dog’s ass wow that dog’s ass is hot that dog’s got a hot dog ass I want squeeze that dog’s ass like a ball but a hot ball a hot ass ball.”

Underwood's stuff is little better. Slowly enunciated prose anecdotes that rely on the ubiquitous and wholly unearned i-know-better-than-you-because-i-speak-with-a-posh-accent, Oxbreligious intonation, by a self-congratulatory pleased-with-itself middle-class English voice in print through the vagaries of passing literary fashion and a small micro-scene of hipsters and expensive editorial blurbing, that, I am certain, will be assessed in the not too distant future for the somewhat, only in my own opinion, over-praised and unremarkable pedestrian language it really is when stripped of the inessential background po-biz noise blurbing how great it all is, and left on the page to speak for itself.

What i find interesting structurally, in a general sense, is the disconnect between poetry and prose in contemporary English poetry culture. We are given the impression anything goes and it is a great time to be an independent experimental crazee doing your own thing, but as soon as you become satirical about it in spontaneous critical conversation, most of the self-declared crazees suddenly become very precious and straight squares, making it plain that there's an acutely conservative and exclusionary agenda in operation behind the tenor of inclusion and social revolution that the rhetorical surface of the critical language surrounding this 'new' poetry ostensibly suggests.

One in which coteries and bands of poet-friends are ruthlessly not engaging in real debate or critical conversation, but communicating, in the main, in a Facebook micro-bubble language in which brevity and witty one liners are the norm, and those keen to test ideas by live conversational print, are very much in a minority and not at all encouraged to speak. With any of this kind of new experimental creative-critical spontaneous prose writing comedically deleted and blocked from the social-media pages claiming to advocate conversation and contemporary critical debate. Not for the language itself being inappropriate or offensive in any way, but purely for speaking honestly in a voice trained not by a process of seeking validation from publishers, but by the act of just doing it, critical prose, anywhere there's a free online page and an audience.

Finding one's long-term literary faith by continual free-writing practise and the methodical study of bardic tradition and its fourteen year poet-training curriculum, rather than the Tudor poet-courtier model, in which knowing your place in a pecking order and prize-culture is the paradigm most cleave to from the very beginning to the very end of our writing journeys. Rather than developing and evolving over years of practise, our authority on the page reliant solely on the approval of one or two of the dreaded pasha Poetry Editors.

A majority of whom were unable to embrace the online revolution because it undermined their own roles of being the gate-keepers of 'good' poetry. That can only ever be the opinion of a person, expressed in varying degrees of eloquence and relevance. If, for example, a voice were to appear on the majority of social-media pages claiming they promote conversation and debate, The Poetry Society being the most obvious one, speaking the hot ass argot and sweary fuck off blah blah blah that Underwood finds so titillating in poetry, that voice would be deleted for being offensive; yet somehow the same banality in this prose-as-poetry, is lauded.

This article is also published on the Irish Poetry Blog


Sanctioned American Middlebrow-ism

Another fact and facet of growing up in Cheltenham: the prevalence of what I call sanctioned American middlebrow-ism. The ideal, sanctioned American middlebrow text is a novel or a play (serious poetry, for reasons I'll get to, is too threatening) which shoots, with expert aim, right for the middle of the tepid, insipid road- just artsy enough to display some heft or rigorousness, but not artsy enough (i.e. innovative or inventive enough, formally or thematically) to alienate the typical suburban home-owning audience member; characters memorable, but not individualistic enough to inspire anyone to rebel or lash out at restrictions; situations challenging, but always reinforcing the master narrative that everything's real, everyone's real, and we're all leading cohesive lives; and a patina of glamour around the heroic, blandly courageous, hip if strangely innocuous author who brought the damned thing into the world. All the sanctioned American middlebrow names stand in a row, basking in the warm glow of New York, Broadway, press junkets, and strange literary venerability in those magical repository spaces: The New Yorker, Harper's, The New Republic, New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly: Bellow, Malamud, Updike, Miller, Mailer, Mamet, T. Williams, Cheever. Anything tinged even a bit European is too uppity for this group: other Mandarinite names: Stoppard, Amis, Nabokov. If I have to laugh at Cheltenham (again), it's at just how far the blarney extended, in my youth, to make sure real poetry couldn't happen; which is to say, that no individual may develop his/her consciousness against the collective interests of our corrupt, yet culturally with-it, community. Lameness squared, brains neutered/spayed.

That's why real poetry is so threatening: it can only be done the right way by cohesive individuals, against the interests of conglomerates/corporations, and in such a way that conglomerate interests are killed by it instantly, as has happened many times in history. When the poetry in a society is set loose, places like Cheltenham sink into a morass of discontent and squalid self-abnegation. Poetry is, must be, when it is major high art consonant, as individualistic as individuals can be. So, Cheltenham: what happens to David Mamet in the twenty-first century? Will you be dropping the name David Mamet (or Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill) in 2050? I think you and I both know the answer to that question. If I feel the need to write this, it is because I will admit to some residual bitterness (still) about the place I was raised, and what a cultural cul-de-sac it was. With the press beating me and my peers to death with Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, and our teachers, parents, and other authority figures weighing in with Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even (for the daring) Camus and Kerouac on the side, it's a bloody miracle any of us lived to figure out what the wages of low-brow-ism and middle-brow-ism are in a time of crisis. As in, only the classicist impulse can get you through an era of trauma in one piece. And, as the cultural dwarfs shout out Snob!, it can't matter much, because what the hell else are they supposed to say? Read the new Philip Roth?

P.S. It needs to be understood that Cheltenham would have an easy, day-tripping way out of dealing with the Cheltenham Elegies series. Because the Elegies employ cuss-words, and feature drug deals, blowjobs, and other miscreant behaviors transpiring right on the surface, the better, more choice Cheltenham families would push the Elegies aside as crass, vulgar, unworthy. What Cheltenham liked, back in the day, was trite, insipid, dulcet literary surfaces, with nothing beneath the surface at all; what you might call pure surfaces. The idea of beneath the surface consonance was a bete noir to these people, who were all, to be frank, vile hypocrites and complete literary impostors.

Twisted Flowers, Perverse Ornaments

Shelley, in Adonais, has a way or manner of referring to both John Keats, and Keats' poetry, as flowery, or flower-like, or even just Keats-as-a-flower and his texts ("melodies") as flowers as well. Shelley's most grandiose moments, especially within the elegy Adonais, tend towards perversity or twistedness; just as Keats' apogees lean towards the straightforward or earnest. But the question I'd like to raise is a tangent to Shelley's designation of Keats and all things related to Keats as "flowery," and it has to do with a substitution of sorts: let's say what is "flowery" in serious art or poetry could also be called "ornamental." That is, meant to heighten sensation, especially sensations of enjoyment/euphoria, without changing or challenging the substance of human thought or consciousness. Does Shelley find Keats to be, in his life and art, ornamental? Is prosody, the melodic richness of language, merely ornamental or an ornament? As I have said before, but it bears repeating in this context, if you eliminate Keats here, dismiss his prosodic achievement as merely ornamental, you have (also) to take out Bach and Beethoven. By Shelley's definition (it would seem), all music is "flowery," ornamental. If I cannot accept this designation as more than a half-truth, it is because what music, in poetry or in its more purified form, does for human consciousness, as a conduit to rendering the most heightened forms of emotion as palpably as possible, is substantial, and adequate to evince the seriousness of the narrative-thematic levels of literature which have more gravitas for Shelley. Little but music teaches us how we feel, and that the importance of emotion is permanent.

So, when Keats sings to us of Psyche, his sadder but wiser girl, it is built into his achieved aesthetic balance that what is flower-like gives us more than half of Keats' earned gravitas, but by no means the whole thing; while Shelley's music is adequate, but does not display the emotional fluency or dynamism of Keats'. Then, it follows that the narrative-thematic levels which predominate draw us back to his texts, and the emotional heft of Shelley's best verse is twisted into a taste we may have for the gnarled or ghastly (and scarred and riven). This is why, at the end of the day, artists of consequence will have a difficult time choosing Keats over Shelley or vice versa; they are so distinct from each other, each the creator of his own universe or consciousness-world, that the comparison has the quality of being apples and oranges. Shelley's condescension, in Adonais, is one of the attitudes that is gnarled in/from him, or twisted, or perverse; just as Keats does, in fact, make a fetish of flowers and flower-like vistas. In a time of recession, serious students of poetry will have to choose from day to day both what they enjoy and what they prefer. What happened later in nineteenth century England- Swinburne and Tennyson taking flowery aesthetics into a realm of no intellect/no imagination, while Victorian mystery novels got twisted, perverse- is not of as much interest as the century's predominant opening salvos, as the twenty-first gets underway with its own twisted flowers and perverse ornaments, and pendulums are prepared to swing back and forth.


Worlds On Worlds

Another recessional lesson: that the primary pleasure or enchantment to be drawn from human life is in one's brain and the quality of one's thoughts. Look at what a recession is, and what a recession does: throws individuals back on their cognitive resources, and either the cognitive depth is there to move the whole she-bang forward, or the human life is essentially over. For the walking dead this might pass muster, but not for me. Imagination is an expression of cognitive depth: so that, when an individual gazes into the night sky, into space, they can draw some kind of imaginative strength from the possibilities of drawing down "space" into their life or consciousness, and thus extending the space their cognitive capacities takes up. This, when quotidian reality sinks into the trough of the lurid and/or macabre. As to where else to look, for what might be genuine cognitive sustenance in a heavily recessional time: the answer to me is crystal clear- high art, philosophy, and science. These are the best human repository spaces for the highest cognitive vistas the human race is capable of opening and exploring.

As per the place of a settled expression like Keats' Odes in all of this- it pays to remember that, if created with enough imagination or cognitive depth, the best products of high art, philosophy, and science create their own self-sustained, self-justified universes, to be inhabited by whatever brains have leave to inhabit them. All the cacophonous garbage stuffed into our brains- pop culture crap, media drivel, inane conversations, in fact everything which denies the truth consonance of humanity's triumph only in the cognitive- looks lurid and macabre in the middle, or in the bottoming out period around or after, a major recession. This vulgarized garbage, if the situation is steep enough, can turn a decent human brain into pulverized mush. There is nothing more macabre then a decent brain, crippled by inanity into lies, duplicity, and denial. In fact, that's what's so eerie about a recessional period- how many people are willing to deny what they see. In certain situations/contexts, the claustrophobia of complete denial is so intense, so demoralizing, that it is difficult to imagine getting through this without suffering grievous wounds. Still, que sera, sera.


Beyond the Charmed Circle of the Human...

One may learn the important lesson from a recessional time: the consideration of why the major Romantics chose to incorporate, both into their literary endeavors and their generalized consciousness, energies from without the charmed circle of the human race, rather than within; to forge a workable relationship, worth writing about, with trees, mountains, rivers, birds, flowers, and the like. One answer is painful, but simple: the consciousness of a Keats or a Shelley has more in common, both in its intentions and in its creative capacities, with what inheres in natural objects (trees, mountains, etc) than with the average human being, and with average human consciousness. It's a byproduct of both age, and experience; to understand, on a profound level, how middling most human consciousness is, how involved in delusion and duplicity, and then to see how this charmed, or not very charmed, circle might be broken. If you can access higher realities in a meaningful way, there would seem to be no reason not to do so. In terms of a lesson from Romanticism worth learning, that is one, though it may or may not be the most salient.

What Modernism and post-modernism gave us, where literature is concerned, is the sense that these relationships, between the human mind and the Otherness of nature, are silly, adolescent, frivolous. The problem is that most human consciousness is, in and of itself, silly, adolescent, and frivolous, and to stay within the charmed circle of the human (or, to get even more narrow, the charmed circle of textuality) is to stay a child, repeating ad infinitum that we are the center of the universe, and that the human race should be homogenized the right way. A homogenized human race manifests no individuals, and if there is nothing outside the text, the cosmic egg is both cracked and unusable. Why Keats and Shelley are older than those who followed and inverted them is that they bring to the surface how wildly uneven both the human race, and human consciousness, are, and that higher consciousness, when it manifests, needs to recognize both this variability (rather than a vaunted homogeneity) and the means to transcend it, sometimes within the charmed circle of the human, sometimes not. The flimsy quality of Modernism and post-modernism takes what makes Romantic poetry superior and pretends it is the pursuit of unreal phantoms; it's just that the human race, more than nature without us, has a problem with the unreal and with phantom systems of government, and when consciousness cannot attach to higher realities, it falls into a trough of stale ironies, incomprehensible symbols, and perverse lecherous inversions of lowliness into sublimity and cacophony into harmony.


That, or Thou...

Shelley's conception of nature, as presented in Mont Blanc, hinges on an essential perceived duality- what is sublime against what is "ghastly, scarred, and riven." That the Ravine of Arve is referred to as "that, or thou" is significant- "that," third-person nature, or "it" nature, can be taken to signify the ghastly, scarred, riven aspect of this "clear universe of things"; "thou," second-person nature, or "you-nature," can be taken to signify the natural majestic or sublime, companionable and personal against "it." Shelley has, at his disposal, models and/or conceptions to gauge what best represents the Power or "secret strength of things" which is seen to under-gird both nature and human thought- the mind's musings on itself (self-reflexive musings), or the equally self-reflexive pursuit of  poetic/creative "ghosts," or a language/linguistic universe. That Shelley opts for visible, material Nature, in its duality, as the most workable model or synecdoche of this Power indicates that Shelley's conclusions seem to follow an imperative drive towards the crowning of empiricism or materialism over imagination, in a manner that Kant might approve of. It is the streak of a scientific ethos in an aesthetic context, and purifies Shelley's conclusions: re-affirmations of duality.

Keats, in comparison, likes things companionable all the way through. He attempts to impose "thou" status on everything, and to live in, and write from, a resolutely personal universe. Not just personal; a personal universe tinged by imagination into an ultra-personal, or hyper-personal universe. The first line of Grecian Urn, "Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness..." gives (to some extent) the entire anti-empirical game away. Oddly enough, Keats' connection to "that," to a third-person situation, context, or universe, is manifested by the mysteries of his prosody- where it comes from, its power and secret strength, how it manifests. It is not, it must be noted, particularly accounted for by Keats himself; he is, in Romantic terms (apropos here), the conduit or channel for it, and absolved by this position from the rigors of having to account for its empirical manifestation (or, as they said in Regency England, "numbers").