Archive for February, 2009

For Valentines’ Day this Year…

February 12, 2009

…we will discuss a perennial question: What makes a poem a love poem? What are the qualifications that push your ordinary, quotidian poem into the realm of the romantic? That’s going to be my present this year. Everybody okay here? It’s either that or I buy another Whitman’s Sampler…and you know where that takes us.

“Honey, does this box of chocolates make me look fat?”

So…one, it has to be a poem and, two, it has to have something to do with love (to get the banalities out of the way), and, three, there has to be some further affinity going on, some synergy—or sovereignty—that putting the two together creates. I mean, why do ‘love’ and ‘poetry’ jump each other’s bones?

There are websites devoted to bad love poetry. Here’s an example, pretty much chosen at random


I also agree,

I am falling

in love,


This poem bears the title ‘Adoration, part 3’and is attributed to ‘Liarbyrd’. Butrose is pushed together, suggesting maybe someone’s name—or posterior—and where ‘But, rose, I agree’ would at least have shadowed the apostrophe in William Blake’s great poem, The Sick Rose—‘O Rose, thou art sick…’— there is a weak ‘also’ suggesting, I guess parts 1 and 2. Compared to other very short poems, where powerful imagery prevails, like Pound’s In the Metro Station

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

—‘Adoration, part 3’s’ not even trying. And as to its rhyming agree with continually…well:

Thy smell continually

Is with thee;

Is it the sea—

Or Brie?


When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

There are of course websites with good love poems. This poem is called Sonnet 29…and, no, I am not going to do a compare and contrast with ‘Adoration, part3’: Like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth…

To propose some broad questions we could ask: What is love and why should we think it has something to do with poetry? Or: what is poetry and why should it be thought the perfect vehicle to express love? And: What’s the connection here? Does this particular highly charged emotion have something particular to do with poetry, or is this some wash-back from Romanticism? While there may be poems that express shame or envy, these aren’t genres. ‘So-and-so, he’s quite a master of Pity Poetry. I feel bad for him.’

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A Nihilist at the Superbowl

February 6, 2009


Right away there’s a problem: Exactly how do you go about saying anything at all about nihilism? Or learning anything…or simply knowing anything? The Latin root nihil means ‘nothing’, so nihilism is, quite literally, a nothing-ism—a doctrine of…well, what? The dictionary tells us that nihilism is ‘an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence’, and ‘a doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.’

No, we are never going to learn anything about nihilism—at least not from the horse’s mouth. For a dedicated nihilist must, it seems, subscribe to the idea that those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say. Even a path of pure negativity is fraught with problems: Say, A asserts something, anything: “The sky is blue.” What response do you give? A shake of the head? This is clearly not enough, but try to explain why you can’t say ‘the sky is blue’—and suddenly you’re defending the status of your criticisms. If you can’t know anything, you can’t know that you can’t know. Na, na, na na na.


And this case-by-case approach has got to be exhausting, what with humanity gushing sentences right and left—not only is the sky blue, but the sea is green, the rose is red—and one wonders if a punctilious nihilist isn’t fast on the way to refuting his own position. Why persevere? If I think the Superbowl is just super, you might spend time showing me the error of my ways, but the case for, say, the World Cup being superior or the Olympic Games is likely to be more convincing to me than a hectoring: Hey, nothing is super, man. You don’t understand reality.

If I want to kick back, open a few beers, get a pizza, have a few friends over, buy a big screen TV, and root for, ah, whoever it is who’s playing…well, damn it, the Superbowl is super. The Giants won last year and it was a great game, a great game. Remember that catch that, ah, what’s his face, made? Unbelievable.

The claim that nihilism is inarticulate, however, should give us an uneasy pause. Just because we’re pushing at the limits of our language here, doesn’t quite mean that the Superbowl is super—because, let’s face it, we know it isn’t—and it’s not super only in comparison to the World Cup; it’s not super because it doesn’t appear to be rooted in anything. At best, it’s an epiphyte, a pretty orchard living off our dreams in a dense wood. Kierkegaard had a notion that he called the rotation method. It’s a subtitle way of distracting oneself from the realities of life; instead of focusing on one thing, you constantly rotate your distractions; it keeps us from growing bored with our empty existence. This week it’s the Superbowl, next week it’s NASCAR, and, hey, March Madness is just around the corner. Sure we have trouble talking about nihilism; so we talk about football and let that draw an outline around the emptiness. Winning isn’t everything, said Vince Lombardi. It’s the only thing. Sure coach. Sure.

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