Buffalo Poetics List: Announcement: Cheltenham ('12)

Catalog Page: Apparition Poems: Saison Poetry Library


Facade: Gilbert Building (Highwire Gallery): 13th Street: Philadelphia

Abby Heller-Burnham onstage: 2006


Interior: Last Drop Coffeehouse: Philadelphia: 2006


Advert: Mortuary Puppies: Outlaw Playwrights: State College, Pa, 1999


More Ricochet Effect

The Ricochet Effect, which I spoke of in reference to John Keats and his Odal Cycle, seems to have two distinct significations. The one, I have enumerated: the quality of intense musicality, and melopoeaic mastery, in Keats’ verse, and the manner in which every word in the Odes ricochets against every other word, heightening their sense of exquisite formality. The second signification is this: the ricochet of the exquisite formality of the Odes against the narrative/thematic elements which animate the poems, which cause tensions and stresses to flare up and both abrade and illuminate the texts’ surfaces. In a way, the second signification of the Ricochet Effect, exquisite formality against narrative/thematic stresses/strains, sets Grecian Urn up as slightly more interesting than Nightingale. People take Negative Capability in Keats for granted, and forget how odd the thing is: Keats exerting his imagination to jump inside (so to speak) an inanimate object, as if it was both sentient and acted like a boundary between Keats as poet and another sentient world, so that the music sustains along an odd ricochet with what the significations of the language are.

A tangent point to dovetail with this, with even broader significations: Keats negatively capable stance before the world, in the Odes and elsewhere, as though the world he perceives has a quality of resonating and shuddering perpetually within itself, in a fashion which suggests both sentience and sensitivity; has more grounding in scientific fact then the flat-line, no-metaphysics model inhering in Modern and post-modern literature. As any particle physicist would be happy to tell you, the resonant, shuddering world is the real one. Modern and post-modern nihilistic landscapes, which erase imagination, emotion, and the capacity to create seriously musical language, are all accursed by the phoniness of pretending a world that isn’t there; a dead, flat one. The Ricochet Effect, in both of its major significations, has in-built Romanticism’s acknowledgement of a multiple/plural world, and a sensitive, responsive world; and the second signification, for Keats, creates all sorts of chiaroscuro moments, as major key melopoeaic harmonies devolve into minor key realizations of frailty, mortality, and overextended imagination, the price to be paid for living on Romanticism’s edge; attempting to balance as many different imperatives as possible, in poetry and in life. Neo-Romanticism carries an identical edge.    


The Loud Noise

High art, when created with rigor, intensity, and imagination, is the loudest kind of cultural noise. Why I often differentiate high and low art is simply complex and complexly simple: because low art is often put into the world to back up destructive forces and interests is the most major reason. Popular culture, for the duration of human history, is almost entirely in completely poor faith. Having grown up in the high maintenance Puppet Factory I did, I got to see first hand the sleazed out lives meant to generate pop culture personalities and interests. The first Puppet Factory rule is this: no individuality, no individualism, no individuals. Individuals are, as I have discovered, the most likely culprits of creating and putting into circulation the loudest (highest) noise. And high art at its best is a realm meant to service the individual, individualism, and individuals. When the loud noise happens, people begin to see through the Empty Spectacles churned out by the Puppet Factories and the School of Quietude they teach at. Why this is occurring to me now is that a century has begun which will, quite blatantly by 2016, not be completely an Empty Spectacle, School of Quietude century, and I feel a sense of excitement in the air that resounds loudly.

Loud noise is capable of scattering School of Quietude forces to the wind. Observe the flatulent ridiculousness of pop culture in 2016, with decaying standards so bent towards self-parody that the 1 billion views Adele (whoever she is, does anyone know who Adele is?) has on Youtube for one video are as good a signifier as any. Why the School of Quietude is so afraid of The Loud Noise is that the School of Quietude teaches us that obsolescence is the point of everything. SOQ is as completely nihilistic as it can possibly be. What makes The Loud Noise loud is that it is meant to be of permanent interest to the brighter, more cultivated portion of the human race. The nimrod quotient of the population— always huge— may remain interested in nothing but obsolescence, but it doesn’t matter. Nimrod-ism, and the nimrod portion of the population, are only there to create a context for individuals, and the individualistic, to subsist in generally. Against accusations of classicism and elitism, there is no good defense for individuals; that may be true; but, as I have said before, enlightened elitism and enlightened classicism are the backbone of the human race’s potentiality for solid progress. If this all seems to be coming out in a gush, a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, it is not just because Neo-Romanticism and Aughts Philadelphia are cresting into a more solid cultural position, but because I, at 40, am finally witnessing what Loud Noise does when let loose in the world, for the individuals, against the nimrods and SOQ. I like it.

It is true that these are things I would write and publish, without necessarily wanting to say out loud. People, even solid people, get pissed about the insistence on high/low art boundary lines, about classifying a huge chunk of the human race as nimrods, and about most pop culture consisting of Empty Spectacles (and no individuals). However, it is a miracle what a little Loud Noise can do, when let off into the air enough times in a row. The inversion works within high art parameters too, which manifests tons of its own Empty Spectacles and Schools of Quietude, which are even more insidious then Adele and the others around now that no one’s heard of (include pop politico morons like Edward Snowden, that is his name, right?), and which I have now spent twenty years fighting. The journey from Outlaw Playwrights in State College to Fayette Street in Conshohocken is a long one, and if I’m still here and fighting for the Loud Noise, it’s because the English Romantics gave me all kinds of templates for living the life I’ve led, and I read the right biographies and they stuck to my brains. Has this whole piece been merely a screed? Yeah, probably. But I want it to be known, for the record: by 2016, the tide in the US was turning, and the Quietude seemed, at least to me, to be in abeyance. The sturm und drang was starting to be about serious work done by people with serious brains for serious reasons, and the bimbos were imploding all over themselves. We’ll see what happens next.


Formality as Metaphor

If formality in serious art is a metaphor, then what it does it represent; what is it a metaphor for? There are no easy answers to this question; aesthetes may say that Beauty should signify only Beauty, and end in itself; but there is a deeper truth and mystery hidden in serious artistic formality. What the most rigorous forms in serious art represent, or are a metaphor for, is a sense of reciprocity between the highest and lowest levels of our mind; in Kantian terms, Sensibility and Reason (skipping, in this context, Understanding). For Sensibility and Reason to achieve some semblance of harmonious integration, what is tactile must be expressive of empirically provable principles. Thus, the John Keats Ricochet Effect we have discussed demonstrates that when language is carried through to its ultimate sense of musicality, a sense of shuddering resonance inheres for some readers which produces not only visceral pleasure but extreme intellectual engagement; again, the harmonious integration of Sensibility and Reason. Understanding or logic, which mediates the middle turf, helps us categorize the serious formality of Keats’ language from effect to effect, passage to passage, line to line. The effect of sublimity, created by Keats’ Ricochet Effect, situates consciousness as part of a larger whole, harmoniously integrated into other universes, including language universes. We see, also, in a chiasmus, how Reason can be situated within Sensibility and Sensibility within Reason; that integration and interpenetration of separate cognitive spheres can be activated by serious formality in art. These resonances, when created the right way, are the loudest noise that human artistic productions are capable of, and why the overall effect of twentieth century art, which was comparatively formless, is a School of Quietude.


John Keats' Ricochet Effect: Star Trek?

John Keats, especially in his Odes, both patented and mastered what I call the Ricochet Effect. What the Ricochet Effect amounts to, in serious poetry, is this: in the economy of Keats’ Odes, line by line and word by word, each word or phrase is made to ricochet, in exquisite, harmonious balance, with the words around it. In Shelley or Wordsworth, this is true of the end-rhymes and uses of anaphora, when they occur; what makes Keats special, and peerless, is that he effortlessly employs end-rhymes, anaphora, assonances, and internal rhymes to create a Full Spectacle of words ricocheting off each other in harmonious balance, so that no words, even “thy,” “thou,” “that,” and the like, remain untouched. Keats is, as I have incised before, a peerless verbal musician. But what are the implications of this formal innovation in serious art— the Ricochet Effect— and what does it mean, as manifestation of the highest kind of formality in serious art, for the Ricochet Effect to exist in the human world and in the human landscape, as a thing among things?

Keats did not live, as we all know, to see his work flourish in an expansive way. During the decades of obscurity following his death, the Empty Spectacles around poetry, the wheels spinning, one might say, continued unabated— names meant to be forgotten were cast up, prizes given to dolts and dullards, fame appointed to stooges and puppets as usual. The way the human landscape is configured, Keats’ formal innovation— what I call the Ricochet Effect, which implies totalized, comprehensive musicality in language— had to sit for a long time before it was pronounced worthy to live past the dolts, stooges, and puppets of the early-to-mid nineteenth century. The horror of the staging of Empty Spectacles while genius-level work just sits, waiting to be elevated, is that it means that for individuals who dare to create on serious levels, what is guaranteed, usually, is a thankless positions buried obscurely beneath the stooges, puppets, and dolts. Yet I wonder if there isn’t some wisdom to letting the most advanced kind of artistic work just sit, just sit there, emanating into the Collective Unconscious and all kinds of human economies, while the stage is cleared for its emergence. Serious artistic work, to be mystic, has a kind of sentience of its own— Keats’ Odes (for me at least) are sentient, and able to chop into whatever economies they choose to chop into, over a long period of time. If individuals who create seriously are willing to give up the drive for recognition, and just let their work sit, then the work can begin to do its own job of destroying the Empty Spectacles and puppet shows over a long period of time.

Serious forms in art, as I have said, are (I believe) sentient, or have a kind of sentience inhering in them. What is sentient in them is a second individuality, past the individuality of their creator. How the sentient forms reach out into the world is to find the individuals most receptive, and begin the process of altering their brains. If this sounds a little Star Trek, please forgive me…but the mysticism of serious formality in art is a little Star Trek, a little Vulcan. It is based on granting sentience, shuddering, resonant sentience, to whatever forms are high-maintenance enough, complex enough, and exquisite enough to carry it. Why I like Keats’ Ricochet Effect as a paradigm model is that, as I have incised before, it models not only serious formality but permanent avant-gardism— because the Ricochet Effect works so subtly that it changes every time we see it, Keats’ Odes can never (for me) leave the sphere of the avant-garde. The semi-sad conclusion: for the individual creators of serious formality in serious art, there may or may not be redemption or salvation. Often, unfortunately, there is not. But for the work itself, emanating seen or unseen, heard or unheard, into the world, there will always be a sentient sense of redemption and/or salvation, every time a new individual is reached, tormented, exalted, and brain-altered. More Star Trek soon.


Issues Around Formality

Formality in serious art is one of the highest expressions of individuality known to the human race. Why it should be that form and formal rigor were misrepresented in the twentieth century— from the height of individuality into a snobbish, classicist ploy to maintain a priggish, Sunday School veneer to high art— is because the twentieth century was essentially, to employ America as paradigmatic, a Republican century, in which serious expressions of individuality were frowned upon in the high sectors, both in America and in Western Europe. Serious expressions of individuality were largely replaced with Empty Spectacles, and thus the degeneration of the century into a kind of School of Quietude. A Republican century, like the twentieth largely was, regards formality in serious art as one of the gravest threats to the hegemony of homogeneity, non-individuality, and the persecution of serious individuals as de rigueur; what part of me warms to talk about this, is that the Republican twentieth century is now over. Great God Almighty! Now that high ideals around issues of formality in art, and serious artistic individuality, are back in circulation, and the lives of serious artists and those who appreciate serious art need not be macabre (serious art does not have to be humorless, either), we can put our crosses and garlic away and look at the issues around formality which are more intriguing.

Like, for instance, who Mary Harju is— a serious formalist who I tend to think will be underrated over a long period of time, but who will nonetheless fail to drop off into nothingness. Mary isn’t, to be sure, dazzling the way Abby Heller-Burnham is; and, to shallower aesthetic minds, is easily dismissed as too derivative of Renaissance Humanism to be taken seriously as a major artist. Mary, to me, represents a certain class of artists— formalists— who are solid, and/or workmanlike, without being dazzling, yet whose work tends to endure while a surprising number of dazzling showmen/showgirls disappear. Yet this type of artist, and there are tons of them in different rooms at PMA too, have a strange karma— never to appear dazzling, but only solid; and yet to find their work enduring in a solid way, and in such a way to suggest that the expressiveness of mere formality, when executed in a rigorous fashion, is 60/40 correct as the approach to serious art in general. Innovation (maybe, and I am sort of playing Devil’s Advocate here) counts 40/60 less then solidity. Republicans and their Empty Spectacles throw the whole thing into the garbage, as they are taught to do in the School of Quietude; but in a more germane century, artists will have to decide for themselves what mere formality and formal rigor count for, even as I have a suspicion that Mary’s paintings may sneak up on some in an uncomfortable fashion over a long period of time.


4325 Baltimore Avenue ('04)

Jason cooking flounder on a filthy range,
   picked up at 40th & Walnut where Penn students
mingled w/ artists, Chomsky-ites, bums, mothers,
   where French bread for two bucks we’d carry
around for walks home down rustic mansion’d
    streets, fish-waft filling lovably threadbare
kitchen laden w/ mustard & crumbs— gone—

Mary’s Acme pesto pasta, Olive-oil Goddess
   she’d make a pot on pot in a pot & we’d
have a bowl from the pot watching hot
   French-flicks in the vivid living room, gone—
paintings, Mary’s evocations Dionysus & Apollo,
   Jason post-Dali post-structuralist Dada &
Derrida derived violences, submitted to smitten
    PAFA judges winking secretly at Jason’s tight
ass, Mary’s too, they screwed, we screwed, we
   all were screwing each other secretly, tenderly,
flecked w/ little chips from falling ceiling, gone—

parties on green-awning’d porch, weed midnights;
   butt-smoke, frost-breath, gun-stocked West Philly
cops stop to shock us w/ looks, putting no
   cell-bar cramps on druggy St. Steven, gone—
moments later I’d drag Mary into her wood-
   floored torrid bedroom & open-door fuck
her, hoping Josh & Kevin might spy
   us, one time on whiskey Mary’s diaphragm
got stuck inside her, I felt it, fucking her,
   we laughed, Mary’s hair then was
long down to her ass, raucous, gone—

Grace, Jason’s grace, a minx of jinxing, she from
   rich Connecticut knows Salinger reads my poems
at parties makes snot comments, silver-belted,
   out on the back porch in October wind we stood,
Grace, raven tresses Heaven-breasts innocent
   sex, girlfriend who had Jason by the face, ass,

I made scathing Spears comment everyone
   hissed, instead we put on Stones Kinks Elliott
Smith, Josh who played music, gone, now w/ Sara,
   jailbait date stealing cars & kisses, back-seat
caresses blonde tresses sun-dresses, trouble-
   starting, Kevin’s dread on my head, gone—

Kevin dumb chimp we called him big beast of
   a man writing bad songs doing Ritalin lines
raging through nights fucking Diana, gone,
   moans that broke us up, Oh Kevin Oh Kevin,
waitress of the hunt, Diana, blank stare, no cares
   or qualms taking alms from everyone, doing
laundry, Diana & me in lust discreetly, doors
   open, Bohemian dream-time—

apogee— everyone hot— everyone fucking, painting
   making music, boozing, drugging, sucking, humping,
leaning on nothing but the night’s promise, always
  more night, another line, another ride, time
to find out food, hues of mood, clues of color, love
  shape, O Lord we were the crux of ourselves,
our nexus the nexus, our moment the moment, all
  now reduced to ash, nothing but a shut window,
a fiery memory of an open one…


Odal Orientations

John Keats Odal Cycle, as I call his five major odes, is not warped by too much dichotomous energy, where poetic formality is concerned. There are slight variations, but the form the five Keats’ Odes take is similar (and unique onto itself). My own five odes, which may or may not constitute an authentic cycle, have a problem of a kind of formal “lumpiness”— three of the odes are formal, and employ Keats’ own odal form; while two are informal, “jazzy” not just because one is an Ode On Jazz, but because they employ high level poetic musicality in a way which attempts to translate something about jazz music, and its approach to formality, into serious poetry. Ode: To Bruce Nauman then, is, for the sake of what I am trying to express here, another “jazz” ode. Keats’ formal innovations could align him with (if we want to attempt to make precise translations) Bach or Beethoven; so that, by employing his forms, I also attempt that sort of classical, classicized musicality. That’s the formal backbone of On Love, On Exile, and To Satan. Having my five-ode sequence waver between “jazz” and “classical” orientations creates, to bring things back to square one, the sort of dichotomous energy which some readers may find confusing, and certainly less an orderly procession then the march through Keats’ odes.

Where the narrative-thematic is concerned, Keats odes stick to the transcendental— imaginative landscapes, immersion in mythologies, meta and/or ekphrastic poems which take works of art as their starting place, raw nature, including sexuality, in chiasmus with the human brain (his extension of Wordsworthian dynamics). The world Keats inhabits, here, resonates and shudders; it is a living world, animated by the vivacity of an imagination which Keats “fancies” has its own reality, against the merely tactile. Keats demonstrates for us, with no holds barred, exactly what Modern and post-modern literature blood sacrificed; the sense that the world we live in is alive, and does, in fact, resonate and shudder with life. The nihilism of Modern and post-modern literature naively dismisses Romanticism as naïve, and creates, consolidates, and maintains a world skewered towards obsolescence, deadness, and human impotence in the face of attempting to achieve transcendental states of consciousness. If Modernism and post-modernism are naïve in the face of Romanticism, it is for the simple reason that scientific fact points the human brain towards the realization that the world around us really does resonate, and shudder, and that mysteries inhere in nature which can lead our minds permanently upwards. The jejune Modern/post-modern sense of world-weariness and effete skepticism have less basis in scientific fact then Romanticism does, try though Modernists and post-modernists might to invert their efforts into a talisman against naivete which is secretly experientially sound. My odes are somewhere in the middle of this— not as transcendental as Keats, more about individuals, human landscapes and relationships, intimacies which inhere on these levels, and also pain before corruption and coercion, where human collectives are concerned.

It could be taken that 4325 Baltimore Avenue is my sixth ode. I wrote it in 2004, about all the fun we had there (West Philadelphia) in ’02 and ’03. The fall of 2002 is when I wrote Ode On Jazz, as I was gorging myself on jazz at that time, and I had a sense of spiritual harmony about my life, both because of the marriage I had going then and because the feeling in the streets in Aughts Philadelphia was exactly what I had been searching for since I began writing seriously. Philadelphia in the Aughts, like Keats’ woods, mountains, trees, and lakes, resonated and shuddered the right way, had a strange life of its own. It couldn’t be that Ode On Jazz was not written from a transcendental place, even as it also an attempt at translation. Ode: To Bruce Nauman fulfills a similar task. The “classical” odes in my cycle are a split, in an odd, backwards/sideways fashion, between heaven (On Love) and hell (On Exile, To Satan). As I develop my thoughts about the two odal cycles (I am calling my five odes a cycle out of convenience, up to a point; we’ll see later if the shoe fits this particular foot), the jazz/classical dichotomy is one I want to develop, as a critical translation— what the implications are, how far they take us out into a possible twenty-first century. Especially as we approach the two hundredth anniversary of the first official release of this odal form, via John Keats, into the world at large.



In a run of centuries that all made at least some of the right kind of noise, the twentieth may go on record as one of the quietest centuries in human history. The reason is simple: for the duration of the twentieth century, too little was produced of permanent value in too many high sectors and in too many high disciplines. The camouflage, or camouflaged, nature of daily life in the twentieth century hung on this contradiction: there was lots of loud activity on the surface, creating an appearance of vitality; while, beneath the surface, there was an impinging shadow of pure, desolate emptiness, and the sense that what was happening on the surface was both trifling and perverse. For me, the twentieth century is all about the Science of the Empty Spectacle— and there is a science to the creation, maintenance, and created obsolescence of the empty spectacles which constituted most of the landscape of the twentieth century. Empty Spectacles which work depend on what I call razzmatazz effects— large numbers of people gathered together in one space create the right kind of razzmatazz effects, for example, from sporting events to political rallies to popular music concerts. A crowd of 60,000 fans, gathered to see a football game, or Bruce Springsteen, is a decoy against the fact that both events have no real relevance in pushing the human mind, or the human race in general, forward. Both are set in place by the media to represent vitality, but the vitality is all surface level. Underneath the surface, there’s the dead, flat, quiet emptiness of what the twentieth century actually was. Which, by the way, would not necessarily be the case if the high sectors (science, philosophy, high art) kept up, and moved forward in the right way; in the twentieth century, they did not. A surfeit of razzmatazz was not balanced by the gravitas achievements which the human mind is capable of.

In art, the twentieth century razzmatazz was all about movements which espoused a rhetoric of limited thought, limited emotion, and limited intimacy between individuals— Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Modernism, post-modernism. The oeuvre of Andy Warhol actually bothers to announce itself as Empty Spectacle; but it is self-knowledge which points back, in a self-referential way, to its own desolate emptiness beneath the surface, and Pollock, Rothko, and the rest land us in similar territory, as does Duchamp before Warhol and Koons after. These artists are all, including Warhol, as quiet as they can possibly be, in their own anticipated obsolescence. They are Empty Spectacles made specifically, and in a purposeful way, to be destroyed into complete nothingness, like big crowds for sports and the like. Again, all is desolation beneath the surface. The fact that a book like Finnegan’s Wake, which is so blatantly a case of the emperor wearing no clothes that it begs to be laughed at (as does a hearty slice of Proust and Woolf), could be considered a twentieth century talisman, of real worth and having real gravitas inhering, is an indication of the essential School of Quietude gestalt form of high art and high sector life in the twentieth century. Poetry in the English language more or less announced its obsolescence as well, as Centrists wrote harmless greeting cards and avant-gardists churned out gibberish, a simulacrum of something purposeful, but not involving thought, emotion, or intimacy between individuals somehow. Philosophy and science I will touch less; specifically because whether Deconstructionism lives or dies still seems like an open question, and science is not my field, though I know that faux-science in the twentieth century was rampant.

The twenty-first century has to be better. Some of us have already set a body of work in place, beginning with the Nineties, which assures this. The irony, and it is a major one, is that if this a century of substantial progress, the polarities may reverse, and the surface razzmatazz and Empty Spectacles of the twentieth century will disappear. The price to pay for profound depth is a surface which must, of necessity, be quieter, as real, permanently relevant noise is generated. It may be that, in the twenty-first century, the masses are at a loss as to how to amuse themselves— if governments choose to emphasize individuals and the high sectors, this will almost certainly be the case. The stadiums full of cheering fans will no longer find a prominent place in the national economy, the media will be tamed or disbelieved, and the School of Quietude which was the twentieth century aegis or rule-book will invert into a century being, in a manner of speaking, avant-garde; standing in a place where boundaries are being destroyed and serious creativity is being pursued with vigor. Or, humanity being what it is, some of the Empty Spectacles will continue to balance what is happening in the high disciplines. Who knows? But I will say that, for this century to repeat the Quietude of the twentieth is now an impossibility. Philadelphia in the Aughts has already decided that for the rest of the nation, and the human world.


To Satan (2nd Draft)

Let it not be said that his rhetoric drifts
   out of focus on Earth for a casual minute—
nor that just retribution is not terribly swift
    for those who disrespect his intimate business;
as the new mother, tethered away from her child,
      meths up, eats what she doesn’t want
           to mortify dread that she might be other
      then a perfect Satan’s gofer, brain-washed, wild—
          infanticide-schemes, inverted taunts,
              floorboards arranged under carpets, like gutters.  

Pentagrams engraved on truth, justice-seats,
    masks woven wanly of paint-wearing flesh;
abattoirs filled with poison-dwarf sweets,
     histories chopped out of infants, made mesh.
What are they scripting: for who, for what?
    That all the false idols, set in a line, might dance
       tangled, backwards, to all that they dread?
How is he drifting? He’s straight, he’s shut
     against any heart holds a  heavenly chance
         of imposing their visions, getting vicious in bed.  

You’re a ruddy old Big Man Downstairs, you,
   fibs so jejune I can’t hear but to laugh—
your buttons are pinned upon somebody who
    mistook all the fame, and the fortunate path.
Why governments swoon before truth is clear—
    you set the bar too high, and low at once,
       no innocent cleric can face all the dumbness—
why all of these drones from downstairs, not here,
     can’t say a lick out of being a dunce,
       define for the ages what being a bum is.