In Praise of the Poem

In Praise of the Poem,
Written at the Start of a New Year

It refreshes me this odd
Art of putting words-to-
Words. It is a

Sense of peace in places
That seem all
Wrong. It is

Soft sound I think in
A cruel well that swallows up
Most things you throw
Down. But, this

Small sweetness remains and
Sustains if,
Only for a little while. It

Refreshes me this odd
Art of putting
Words-to-words.

On Poetry

Such careful crafting.
A poem. It demands
Such careful crafting.

Lines must meet at
The very end of lines.
A period. Or a comma,
Or that mysterious
Semicolon; what do
That odd dashes do?

And… those marvelous
Metaphors, those stirring
Similes sitting like lumps
Of gold in streams we search
For on mountain sides we just
Can’t quite reach. Flowing

And flowing through
Enjambed lines that push
Past pictures of pale
Pleasant pulses of all
Alliterative verse. So

Too those times when rhyme
Fits nicely in line

With this poem… this
Design of words that fit
So-and-so.

Posted as Part of Poets United
Midweek Motif

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part I

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

I. Claps of Thunder

I sat in a cell once, long ago,
In Athens it was, crying for that dead
Wasted body of pale Pericles… our hero.

Wine mixed
Not enough. I

Saw broken bits
Of corpses bouncing by –
Such sad women,
Such sad women – all
Pushed downstream to
The still, tepid waters of
Our port,
At Piraeus.

Wine mixed not
Enough. When

Young and bounding
Over rocks on
Star-cold sands by
The clay site at Siwa I
Stared at grimy papyrus
Scrolls, stared
At a king, a king left
Stabbed and silent by
A solemn pool,
A pool in
The dry, mythic mountains
Of perfumed Persia.

Wine mixed…

In Utica in a sparse room,
In a dead
Desert city, I
Found Cato mumbling
And mumbling about

The claps of thunder that come
Before the damp rains chill the
Silent statues the
Crowded squares of
Speckled Rome.

Wine…

Posted as Part of Poet’s United Sunday Poetry Pantry

Fragments from the Desk of an Esteemed Poet

Fragments from the Desk of the Esteemed Poet,
J. Humbert Riddle, Lately Deceased…
By Causes Unknown

Editor’s Preface:
The reader might be confused by this Riddle poem. So, a few notes.
I found these “Fragments” intact in one of the dark recesses of Riddle’s desk,
And, though I dug, was unable to find the other “Fragments,” assuming of course
That more to this strange piece exist. Riddle, apparently, had arranged these “Fragments”
Himself, and odder still, scratched in the title you just read. How he knew he was about
To die, and “By Causes Unknown,” might just be the central mystery
Of this poem.

Fragment 12

I am a sick man.
I am a poet whose poem
You’re reading right now you
Are and I am a sick man,
A sick poet-man I am…

Mumbling at a bolted down
Desk while bars bar the way
To sunshine and I tremor to
Tremor to hear lunatic wails
Weeping through the walls
That bar me and that bind
Me to cells bored deep
Underground?

Fragment 32

I am a sick man.
I am a sick
Man I am a
Sick poet-man I
Am.

Fragment 2

Dressed to the nines in
White washed rooms that reek
Of madness and measles
That dot the walls and
Whisper that whisper to
Me I on dry nights with
Thunder calling my name out
Loud:

I am an I am
A sick man am
I am? A
Poet-man I am.

Time – less

Still moments beyond memory see
An old woman, fumbling for keys,
At the very top of
Unlit, creaky wooden steps.

While a young man wakes up
In a panic sweat, cold and hard,
And hears: the wind tapping
On cold car windows

Outside, where a woman drops
A quarter that no one finds.

Waiting Up

He moves with a graceful
Tread. So patient, so
Patient – almost plodding.

Up the stairs,
Up the stairs in
The quiet dead,
Of night. While

Pensive in bright lantern light,
Lincoln, waiting up, turns
His head.

On the Apparent Uselessness of Art

If you really think about it, we live in a world absolutely obsessed by value as understood by use and practicality. We find meaning in things that have meaning, but usually only in the most painfully logical, reasonable sense. I do this and you do that because yes, it’s so rational, and things add up so nicely. Our cars get us from point a to point b, and then get us back home again, safe and secure.

But… why do we think this way? And is the truly most valuable thing that very thing that does not actually have any value? That adamantly refuses to add up?

These are the questions that I’m most interested in at the moment, and I can’t help thinking that art, or truly great art, especially in our day and age, must be absolutely, 100 percent useless. It has no value, no great purpose, or really you could say it just sits there and determinedly stares at all of those other things that insist on doing something so practical and logical for us. Other things buy us things – whereas the type of art I’m talking about is great precisely because people can’t seem to sell it. It sits unused and unwanted in the shop store window, gathering dust.

Of course, there’s nothing at all revolutionary or ground-breaking in this idea. It’s been around in various guises, this thought of uselessness versus purpose. Maybe we just need to be reminded of it? By far my favorite example of this determined uselessness comes in the 19th century in the figure of Oscar Wilde, and his flamboyant, extreme version of Aestheticism. I guess what I love so much about Wilde is the fact that he actually lived what he preached. The paper and his ideas came to life. He would deliberately shock crusty Victorian society, with its prudish ideas about morality, by living in excess, and as a true, flashy dandy. He believed that yes, art is truly beautiful for its own useless, purposeless sake. He talks most famously about this in his “Preface” to The Portrait of Dorian Gray. My favorite little passage is when he writes, “They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.” Or, simply put, don’t destroy beauty and art by assigning them grand, all-encompassing purposes. Art “means,” even though it means nothing at all, simply art – and therein lies its supreme beauty. Divorced and unfettered from stodgy, boring uses. Follow this link to check-out the entire “Preface:” http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/owilde/bl-owilde-pic-pre.htm.

duchamp-web

A Marcel Duchamp “ready-made” from the early 20th century. This also fits with Wilde. See how Duchamp “destroys” the use of the chair? But by doing this, he makes it a piece of beautifully useless art.

Now, I bring up Wilde, and I say that he is probably my favorite example of Aestheticism, and the art for art’s sake movement, largely because of the time period he worked in. The end of the 19th century was, in many ways, a lot like our own 21st century world. This was a time of extreme industrial progress, and the rise in the power and overall invasiveness of the machine in our everyday lives. People were falling in love with their machines, and anything that made their lives easier and more efficient became God-like and divine. Notice the world efficient? Efficient tools that helped us therefore had true value. They were the toys that kept us at ease. In turn, art, in this society, seemed truly useless. What a waste of time people would declare. Make more machines! That’s how we advance as a culture. What can art ever do for me? And so you have people like Wilde, and other dandy-like figures, resolutely taking a stand against machine-determined value.

Poor Wilde - he spent most of the rest of his life in jail because of
Poor Wilde – he spent most of the rest of his life in jail because of “homosexuality.”

Beauty and art, they declare, is so important precisely because it is useless; or, at least useless in the eyes of the machine-minders and devotees of reason and the bottom line. They deliberately confuse these people. Throw wrenches in the machine for sport, and declare irrationality and beauty and art as the only truly free things. They remain outside of control. They cannot be equated. They do not add up, and it is precisely because of this stand against reason that people learn to fear them… largely because they don’t understand them. They rest outside our own grand, stabilizing equation, and, by so doing, reveal that it is in fact not that grand and all-encompassing as we had been led to believe. That which stands outside shows a gap in the center, a hole that we can’t quite fill up. At best, we can only look the other way, or convince ourselves that it somehow doesn’t exist in the first place. But that only lasts for so long.

Art, then, or what I would argue as being truly great art, must be useless. It stands aside, and looks askew at a world that it fully understands, but refuses to take part in. Unlike so many other things, it protects its freedom.

Aporia III

To the pass the tired poem
Trudges, so sluggish and so
Slow… like a snail

That trails a residue trail
That trails to a pass where
A poem perches, watching

A snail pass, so sluggish
And slow.

Aporia II

A poem is a person that
Walks with a slight
Limp. Taps on red doors.

Whispers through grates that gush
Up to cool paving stones
Ripped from dead-men’s tombs

That once depicted a man
Walking with a limp and
Tapping… on red doors.