My introduction to poetry came in the summer of 1962 a few months before my 10th birthday. That summer, I attended a class at San Fernando Valley State College (now known as California State University, Northridge) which focused on The Iliad and The Odyssey. After completing the course and having my eyes and ears opened to a whole new world of words, language, ideas and rhythms, I began to read poetry voraciously. The child in me discovered Longfellow and Wadsworth, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s prose. At the same time, some other part of my mind craved Hesiod, Virgil and Ovid. Soon, Mark Twain grasped my imagination. My reading interests continued to grow as I approached high school, when I was introduced to William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.
It was during my high school years when I began to explore poetry with a more detailed eye and ear. This is also the time when I began my journey into expressing myself through poetry. Consequently, I would like to provide the reader with a glimpse into the poets and styles which have exerted the greatest influence on me as I sought out my poetic voice and vision, and which grew from those early interests. Since the only language I find comfort reading has always only been English, the list of poets I can call influential in my development, and consequently feel able to discuss, will only be those who wrote in English. I do not wish to provide a detailed analysis for each or any of the poets whose work most influenced me. Rather, I want to give the reader a general overview. My intent is to allow you greater understanding of my poetry. Let me begin with John Donne, John Milton and Alexander Pope, all of whom stand as significant, early influences upon my developing mind and ear.
In the early 17th century, nearly all poets followed one of a few poetic schools led by either: Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson or John Donne. Spenser led the Romantic Movement in poetry with his invention of The Faerie Queen, and his style offered the main counterpoint to the entrenched, formal, Elizabethan school. Ben Jonson was the acknowledged master of the Elizabethan school in Shakespeare’s day, to which school Shakespeare can also be attributed. A satiric poet, Jonson concentrated on classical qualities which exhibited restraint, simplicity and precision in form and theme.
Donne, however, felt the need to break with the past and deal with the paradigm change resulting from Copernicus’ newly (at that time) interposed cosmogony. His education and mindset bridged the chasm separating Medieval and Renaissance thought. This resulted in the rise of what John Dryden would later term the Metaphysical school, because, as Dryden said, Donne “affects the metaphysics and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softness of love.”
What Dryden meant by this was that Donne came off, to him, learned and obscure. Donne’s philosophical imagery illustrated and defined emotional and intellectual adventures through the scholastic topics of his day, subjects such as: astrology, astronomy, alchemy, mathematics, Aristotelian suppositions on the natural world and Christian theology.
A reader may not sit passively reading Donne. One must engage one’s mind. Donne provides a glimpse into contemporary poetry with his high-speed, ever-shifting imagery. To read Donne properly requires one’s whole self – mind, heart and soul – to be on alert. Donne provides no imprecise words, no ineffective image and no vague suggestiveness. No word, line or phrase dare be unanalyzed or misunderstood without losing the deeper meanings in Donne’s verse.
John Milton succeeded Spenser in the mantle of leadership for the Romantic Movement. Milton stands as one of the great minds of his generation. He espoused radical, republican politics in a time dominated by monarchy. Likewise, Milton eschewed Episcopal Catholicism and Anglicanism for his preferred Puritanism which was considered heretical in the England of his day.
Paradise Lost, a magnum opus and blank verse (blank verse is a term indicating the lines are written in iambic pentameter but do not rhyme) epic, was written by a blind Milton over a six year period from 1658 to 1664 and was first published in 1667. In it, he lamented the failure of his desired revolution, a broad human movement to republicanism, while he also affirmed his ultimate optimistic belief in the great human potential to rise above its base nature and aspire to greatness. Milton expressed a deeply interconnected humanism in spite of his religious overtones.
John Dryden and Alexander Pope turned away from Donne’s Metaphysical style because their world had passed beyond the entire world view prevalent in Donne’s day. Their strengths include a mastery of technique and language, breadth of understanding of human nature, and powerful ability to provoke insight and meaning out of imagery, symbolism and circumstance. They revealed within their work an intensely subjective analysis, applied not only to the concepts of good and evil, but also to what they considered the inevitable struggle between those forces as they play out in every individual, culture, society and government that ever-was or ever-will-be.
Dryden and Pope also reinvented what has been termed the heroic couplet. The term arises from their style of writing: iambic pentameter lines which rhyme in the aa, bb, cc (and so on) scheme, and which generally appeared in epic poems and plays of a “heroic” nature. In Pope’s hands, the couplet styling can more aptly be termed “mock-heroic” because of his penchant for satire and parody (a great example being his The Rape of the Lock) as he lampooned the stuffiness and contradictions of his time. While the form existed since Chaucer, Dryden and Pope used it almost to the exclusion of all other forms.
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge comprise another pair of poets who left the indelible ink of their craft upon my imagination. The commanding presence revealed by their insistent use of beat and meter, so subtly softened by a richly ornate use of vocabulary and rhyme, magnifies tension and seduces the reader.
Wordsworth imparted his “Child as father of the man” philosophy (meaning the noblest qualities of all humanity arise out of our child-like innocence) through his poetry. Meanwhile, Coleridge, a utopian philosopher, wove wispy commentaries on a dreamily decadent culture and servile society through opium induced fantasies, forcing us to look at our individual and collective shadow-selves. Both men expressed deep reverence for nature in their poetics. Wordsworth included in his approach to his craft his belief that to communicate effectively poetry must be written in the common, spoken vernacular of the time. This announced a change in approach from his forebears and fostered a bond between poet and “everyman.”
Coleridge liked to say poetry should distinguish between mechanic form and organic form. Samuel believed that to impose a predetermined form on a poem was both arbitrary and mechanical in nature. However, to allow a poem to develop a shape, form, meter and style through writing and rewriting is to grant the poem a life of its own and “organic development.” This organic development was favored by Coleridge, who said, “A good poem is like a plant, constantly growing and evolving through its own internal energy into an organic unity.”
William Blake left a legacy of intensely spiritual poetry. Blake’s technical virtuosity, inspiring themes, beautiful language and intensely emotional content charged his poetry into angelic tools capable of lifting the human spirit above the mundane and re-direct the aims of people to the highest morality, most spiritual of pursuits, and most hopeful and loving integration of humanity possible. Blake believed in the ability of humanity (both collectively and individually) to overcome any personal shortcoming as well as the basic state of human nature as being one of continual growth toward an eventual perfection of the individual, species, culture and society.
To grapple with Blake, one must first consider this statement of his, “The imagination is not a State: it is the Human existence itself.” Blake, far ahead of his time (1757-1827), abhorred slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. Several of his poems express a notion of universal humanity: “As all men are alike (tho’ infinitely various).” He rejected all impositions of authority to the extent that he was charged in 1803 with, though later cleared of, assault and uttering seditious and treasonable expressions against the King. Although Blake was a dedicated believer in Christ, he found a regimental approach and excessive administration of authority as being endemic to all churches and oppressive of the individual’s right to freedom, which he valued above everything save his belief in God.
Blake helped shape the modern world’s conception of imagination. He believed humanity would overcome the limitations of its five senses: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” [This quote was extracted from his “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”] While his perspective was once perceived as aberrant, heretical and perhaps even psychotic, that Blake quotation not only seems to have become incorporated into the modern definition of imagination, but has been echoed by Aldous Huxley in both the title to, and theme of, his book, The Doors of Perception and the name for, and lyrical and musical styles of, Jim Morrison’s band, the doors (which name they never capitalized, perhaps as Morrison's nod of homage to e.e. cummings).
Walt Whitman is the first American poet among my list of influences. Whitman’s extreme optimism, his belief in humanity, his reverence for the beauty and harmony of nature and his appreciation for the way the interrelationship of all of creation coheres everything into a unified whole, all provided universal themes of eternal struggle which still inspire readers.
Whitman wrote in the language of his place and time, while also breaking free from restrictions of meter and form. I should take care not to suggest, though, that Whitman invented free verse, since both Matthew Arnold and William Blake had previously experimented with the style. Nonetheless, Whitman’s work certainly helped to popularize free verse with a credibility, critical acceptance and literary success which hadn’t been afforded it before.
Whitman wrote (and self-published on multiple occasions) one book in his life, to which, over the years, he added new poems when he republished new editions of Leaves of Grass. Those new additions often revealed rewriting of previously published verse as well. His poetry truly was a representation of his life, brave enough to grow over time and reach its fullest potential.
T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were American ex-patriots residing in England when they acquired literary recognition. They redefined previously held limitations on style, language and forms of poetic constructs. A few years before Eliot, Pound landed in London with revolutionary ideas about reforming the language and content of poetry not so different from those expressed by Eliot when he arrived in 1915.
Pound was a leader in the avant-garde literary circles of London at the time. Pound met Eliot, strongly believed in Eliot’s poetry and artistic sensibilities, edited Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, and helped Eliot become published. Without suggesting the two men agreed on everything, Pound’s and Eliot’s theories regarding the shape and breadth of poetic revolution necessary to reshape poetry into their view of greater artistic heights remained very similar.
The following discussion of Eliot’s poetics is derived from three of his essays, Hamlet, The Music of Poetry, and The Metaphysical Poets as well as my own understanding, beliefs and interpretations.
Passion was infused into subject matter through use of Eliot’s critical and theoretical construct, the “objective correlative.” Eliot broke with men like Matthew Arnold and Alexander Pope, as well as the Victorian, Metaphysical and Romantic movements. He held that to maintain what he considered to be “the integrity of poetry,” the poem must focus on its artistic sensibilities over anything else, including (and perhaps even especially) overt political, social, philosophical and ethical commentary.
Eliot believed the artistic value of poetry was to be found within the emotional content. This emotional content required the intrinsic presence of an objective correlative. That correlative is best expressed through example – a story, character study, situation, thing or event which evokes emotion within the reader. Eliot said poetry should reveal ideas through sensation as opposed to through an elaboration of the intellectual and the sensual as separate and distinct. In this way, Eliot argued, the poet avoids the pitfall he called “the dissociation of sensibility.”
Eliot believed poetry had experienced a schism of thought and feeling in the 18th and 19th centuries, where, before, thoughts and feelings had been incorporated into one another (or so he believed and said). It was to his purported ideal of a purified, poetic artistry to which Eliot hoped poetry would return.
I have a completely different point of view about 19th century poetry and completely disagree that his assessment should extend back into the 18th century. My feeling is that poets like Byron, Shelley and Keats stuck too rigidly to the kind of diction and language used by Wordsworth and Coleridge. The world had grown accustomed, one might say, to expect a certain kind of language in poetry. This led to a sense of bland detachment and an artificially created and antiquated exaltedness which became banal and hackneyed. Topic choice wasn’t the issue, nor was the interjection of thought into poetry (something that had always been integrated).
No, the problem was that poets didn’t write in the same “current” (to their time) language as was used in everyday conversation. The use of antiquated but traditional poetic diction made 19th century poets sound stuffy, condescending and apart from the rest of society. I suggest Eliot and Pound threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Just cleaning up diction to bring it into the Modern Age was the only surgery required. However, that said, I would never argue the experiments Eliot and Pound explored were of no value. I believe they add to our rich poetic heritage. I just don’t think they should dominate that heritage.
Let us consider that the objective correlative premise demanded the presence of an object which gives rise to the emotion in a poem, and this object must be of a degree of intensity logically relative to the emotion intended to be evoked by the poem. The significance of this theory, to Eliot, lay in the intention to underpin the poem with a foundation of believability as well as help direct the content toward universal themes as opposed to trite, individual concerns.
A difficulty which can arise in maintaining a strict adherence to this artistic sensibility arises in the possible absence of logical connectives among the various sense images as well as between them and the thought or idea they symbolize in order to evoke out of the desired emotional response in the reader an appropriate understanding of the poet’s intended meaning.
Eliot disliked thought in poetry whenever interjected as a “meditation, reflection, or rumination.” Eliot did extol “a direct, sensuous apprehension of thought, or re-creation of thought into feeling” (sensation), and “the essential quality of transmuting ideas into sensations.” Hence, Eliot’s artistic dictum asserted a policy of abolishing abstract statements, analysis and interpretation of culture, society, politics and philosophy from poetry. Eliot aligned his point of view to that of the so-called Metaphysical School of poetry. However, the method employed by the Metaphysical poets actually always expressed both the pattern of images Eliot prescribed as the only artistic value of a poem together with the logical content of ideas and commentary upon the pattern of images, which Eliot eschewed.
Eliot had no problem admitting poems created with his preferred sensibility, while leading to poetry of great intensity, place greater demands on the reader. One must read this poetry with as much increased concentration and intensity as the creation of the poem demands of the poet. Eliot justified this on the basis that the complexity of modern civilization demanded an increased complexity be reflected in modern poetry (modern to Eliot in 1915, now known to us as comprising the period from just prior to the beginning of WWI and continuing to the end of WWII which we call the period of Modernism). No one can deny that this style also yields more obscure and more oblique poetry. However, in the hands of a master poet like Eliot or Pound, the technique assists in creating intense poetry which distances itself from narcissism and banality by stripping away the restricting intrusion of personal or logical interpretation in order to reveal in pure emotion universality to discerning readers.
Another of Eliot’s innovations was a return to Wordsworth’s revolution in language. As Eliot wrote in his essay The Music of Poetry, “While poetry attempts to convey something beyond what can be conveyed in prose rhythms, it remains, all the same, one person talking to another… Every revolution in poetry is apt to be, and sometimes announces itself as, a return to common speak. That is the revolution Wordsworth announced in his prefaces, and he was right.” Again, Eliot realized the need to preserve a poetry which remained more accessible to readers through understanding poetry is a method of communication and the best communication lies in speaking (or writing) in a language and vernacular in common usage.
One can argue the degree of challenge Eliot knew would be required for his new poetry by both poet and reader (the elitist conceptualization of the objective correlative and the excision of thought from poetry all taken together as a whole) prevented this new poetry from being “all the same, one person talking to another.” It extracted much of the content most people incorporate into normal conversation: thoughts, ruminations, pondering and value judgments. I attribute poetry’s decline as a commercially viable medium in the contemporary world to this extraction of thought from poetry. Plays, opera, musical theater, concerts of all styles and genres, art and books of both non fiction and fiction all thrive in the contemporary entertainment climate. So, I cannot accept poetry suffers in commercial viability because of the advent of film, television or popular trends in music.
Pound and Eliot revolutionized poetry at the same time as they continued to incorporate classical symbols and metaphors, just as had the poets of the 19th century and before. The literary titans, Pound and Eliot, exhibited a fearless contempt for the limitations imposed by the mores of the Victorian Age, thereby creating poetry which aided in liberating the human spirit from the shackles of repression and sublimation, anticipating perfection of human nature might be better pursued and accelerated. Pound’s and Eliot’s use of classical mythology as symbols and metaphors for human circumstances, strengths and foibles, as well as society’s contradictions and discrimination, continued a time honored approach to reveal universality in content while also expanding the archetypal nature residing within their poems’ thematic depth.
After the conclusion of WWII, the world became schizophrenic. The evidence lies in every discipline. The mass of humanity just escaped two horrifying and extremely deadly world wars. Hovering over the emerging post-war reality was the specter of nuclear annihilation in an epic East-West conflict. Suspicion hung thickly and pervasively from the U2 to the Iron Curtain to Little Red Books to Korea to Vietnam to NATO and the Warsaw Pact to Voice of America broadcasts to drop drills, air raid sirens and tests of the emergency broadcast system. Fueled by the GI Bill, the broader mass of returning American veterans went to college and/or opened their own businesses. A more widely and better educated, as well as more broadly pervasive and affluent, middle class arose from the ashes of the depression and two world wars.
The expanding pervasiveness of educated erudition allowed new movements in every artistic endeavor to find expression in a neo-Renaissance which arose in the decades after WWII. Many trends in art arose. In music, traditional jazz has seen offshoots from more than a few revolutions including bebop, fusion and the recent foray into the bland and emotionally distant smooth jazz. In addition, music has witnessed the birth of many completely new forms including rock, electronic, new age and hip-hop. Classical music gave way to the experiments of men like Sibelius, Glass and Satie. Film has grown up from its silent and black and white eras during the Modernist period to express, in its greatest moments, works of deep emotion and intense, universal significance. The best movies are like visual, epic poems.
Poetry also spawned a frenetically varied gamut of approaches since the end of WWII. It is fair to apply to the post-WWII period an overriding term. The word commonly used is “Contemporary” to distinguish it from “Modern.” However, contemporary would have no meaning applied to a time period from 1945 to 2001 when viewed 100 years later. Besides, the 1950s are hardly contemporary with the 2000s. So, I feel compelled to reject that un-illustrative name, especially since it speaks more to the lazy narcissism which so-called culture has expressed and disseminated throughout that time period.
A fascinating anomaly during this era has been a schism of thought in two broad classes of people, independent thinkers and blind acceptors. The more highly educated an individual became, the more they were apt to exhibit independent thought. Time Magazine re-introduced Nietzsche through the magazine’s issue sporting on its cover the question, “Is God dead?” Science began probing the deepest secrets of the universe and uncovering the building blocks of life as The Big Bang and double helix became accepted scientific doctrine, both supporting in their own ways the obvious truth that the universe is a product of evolution and natural selection.
At the same time, we have witnessed a massive reconnection between people and evangelical-fundamentalist religious movements in both Christianity and Islam. What kind of grip can these religious trends exert over people? They hold to the strictest interpretation of Creationist beliefs and refuse to accept as scientific facts such scientific discoveries as: evolution, natural selection, The Big Bang, carbon dating as a valid technique for determining the age of artifacts, Einstein’s theories of General and Special Relativity, the double helix and DNA. Those same scientific principles make just about every aspect of our lives in the contemporary world both possible and comfortable: from GPS devices in their cars to microwave ovens to a vast wealth of medicines to laser surgery to the atomic power which provides much of our cities’ energy and to much of the weaponry of the contemporary military! (Superstition, it seems, is the only addictive behavior for which a Twelve Step program has not been developed. But then, of course, Twelve Step programs are dependent on the superstitious nature of people in order to band them together into a world-wide Orwellian Big Brother Society keeping tabs on self and other simultaneously.)
I cannot begin to exhaustively critique every school of poetry since 1945. However, I will briefly touch on a few of the most important movements and a few of the most significant poets while providing greater detail on those schools which influenced the development of my poetry.
New Criticism, which tends to denote those following the tradition set by Modernists with John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren being among the founders of this school of thought, provides a fine starting point. They enshrined some of Eliot’s complex literary values like interjecting into their poetry: paradox which one cannot logically phrase, an intricacy of irony expressing lack of commitment, impersonality and distance, and self-conscious techniques of word dexterity. Many of America’s most famous poets sprang from this group, including: Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, however, by the late 50s, even they began violating their precious New Critical principles!
An “anti-formalism” spirit arose in the 50s and 60s in response to the rigidity and distance present in New Criticism. Charles Olson’s 1950 essay Projective Verse announced a new approach to poetry which we call the Black Mountain School. Robert Creeley once said, “Form is never more than an extension of content.” He found an attraction to Olson’s ideas and joined the Black Mountain School. Another significant subscriber to the Black Mountain School was Denise Levetov, who wrote an influential essay titled Notes on Organic Form in 1965.
Olson expressed a focus on breath in poetry. He believed in constructing poems in what he called a projective and open format by releasing line from the tyranny of feet and meter and reinvigorating the energy of the poem with a language and form constructed out of the interplay of ear and breath. There is a naturalness of a line which submits to the fluidity inherent in the sound of specific words to the ear while also obeying the constraints of breath. Olson explained, “… that verse will only do in which a poet manages to register both the acquisitions of his ear and the pressures of his breath.” [Emphasis in Olson’s original.] Olson also suggested poets pay less attention to rhyme, meter, and both the quantity and sounds of words, while placing greater emphasis on the syllable. Olson exclaims to us in his poetic manifesto, “Let me put it baldly. The two halves are: the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the syllable; the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE.” [Again, emphasis in Olson’s original.] Another of Olson’s significant points about writing poetry relates, “So, is it not the PLAY of a mind we are after, is not that that shows whether a mind is there at all?” [Once again, emphasis in Olson’s original.]
Olson revealed a host of fascinating opportunities for poets to explore from the possibilities arising out from employing his system of open or projective verse. Experimentation was something he excitedly advocated. One could, using the newly proliferating technology of the typewriter (then becoming widely possessed by middle class households in post-WWII/GI Bill America) to tab additional indentations, indicating how long a pause between lines might be indicated. Or, words could be arranged on the page to emphasize some additional intended meaning.
One would expect Denise Levetov’s essay, Notes on Organic Form, should pay some debt of gratitude to Coleridge, and she delivered. Denise found excitement in exploring how far one could take Coleridge’s ideas. Then, she tied what she learned from Coleridge to Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept of organic architecture. In the fusion, Levetov opened up open verse so it might be projected more broadly. She led the world to the doorstep of possibility in terms of poetry’s potential. Denise reminds us that organic means living, implying that a poem is a thing alive like you or I. A living poem requires the poet to relinquish the role of omnipotent creator, imposing whatever regularity a poet’s whim might decree. Levetov must have heard whisperings from the muses, because she directs us to listen to the poem and allow the poem to dictate to the poet what its unique structure wants to be.
Another admonition Denise joined Olson in expounding derives from a quote attributed to Edward Dahlberg, “The law – one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception.” However, to that axiom Levetov informs us she learned there are places in a poem for chasms, too. “Great gaps between perception and perception which must be leapt [sic] across if they are to be crossed at all.” The magic in that approach, she continues, occurs when the rifts are leaped over. “A religious devotion to the truth, to the splendor of the authentic, involves the writer in a process rewarding in itself; but when that devotion brings us to undreamed abysses and we find ourselves sailing slowly over them and landing on the other side – that’s ecstasy.”
The next group influencing my poetic growth which I’ll cover is the New York School. This group included Frank O’Hara, John Ashberry and Kenneth Koch. They were inspired by the art produced by the abstract impressionist movement. In the same way, they saw art in poetry as an evolving process, not a finished product. I see this group treading lines between a variety of other schools, derriving content from the Confessional school or New Critical inspiration, but utilizing Olson's open form while incorporating a new natural landscape – the city – and being highly experimental.
The Beats are another major influence upon my poetry, arising out from a less mainstream, less middle class 1950s. This group includes Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Kenneth Rexroth, and Robert Duncan (the latter of whom migrated to The Beats from Olson’s Black Mountain School). The Beats swirled with energies as divergent as Rexroth’s and Snyder’s Zen-like capturing of liquidly fluid imagery and mystery embedded within enigma to Ginsberg’s travels from a hell in the bowels of the American streets to his Whitman/Biblical Psalms influenced messianic incantations. Ferlinghetti reported on a world which seemed like a circus, unreal yet demanding, and right in your face. So, he incorporated language, symbolism and line breaks and indentations to jar the individual out of the consumerist malaise which began gripping contemporary reality. Ferlinghetti's style also seemed to emulate the way experience imprints the brain, things coming at the mind from all over the place.
The Beats had something else going for them. Unlike most of the other poets since Eliot’s day, who it seems all emerge with College and University credentials authenticating their poetic authority, the Beats come to us mostly from the streets, from the great voice of America’s everyman. They fused drugs, eastern mysticism, jazz and improvisation. They exposed truths which nicely prim university types hesitated to notice and in language which, just like the comedy of Lenny Bruce during from the same time period, cultured society found offensive. In their deepest roots, the Beats exemplified an authenticity one can find in Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. At the same time, The Beats infused an emerging subculture with a whole new way of perceiving their world and a whole new language for expressing those new perceptions.
Since Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are the next major influences on my poetry, they demand a deeper analysis. They continued the work of Eliot in breaking down the needless rules confining possibilities in poetic style. Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg perpetuated Eliot’s exploration of common vernacular in poems, opening new avenues to reach universal themes and broadening the horizons of artistic sensibilities. [While Ginsberg was deceased long before the writing of this discussion, Ferlinghetti is still alive and still writing poetry. I use the past tense only in the sense that their major works, and those works of theirs which most influenced my writing, had already been penned by the mid-1970s.] In so doing, they continued to advance the movement begun by Eliot and Pound throughout the second half of the 20th century and straight to this day.
Their persistence in challenging tradition contributed to generational movements (begun by the “beat generation” but most ardently pursued by the “hippies” of the sixties) towards freedom in all areas of life. They, too, sought to advance the progress of humanity toward some ultimate, future perfection looming as a desired destination. These men contributed their advances without ever detracting from the elegance and eloquence of their words or the intrinsic beauty of their poetics.
Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg reintroduced thought into poetry, together with the other Beats, the Black Mountain School and to a lesser extent the New York School, along with those who have followed them in their poetic styles and sensibilities in the decades since. They created an underground movement during the 50s which rejected Eliot’s proscription against introducing thought into poetry, making it fashionable, again, at least among Beat poets and most other advocates of open poetry, for the poet to interject thoughts and personal values into their work. However, they always did so in a manner which, like Donne, Milton, Pope and Whitman before them, maintained the poems’ universality. Thus, they avoided the pitfalls of descending into narcissistic self-analysis and expressions of self-pity, sappy sentimentality or banal, irrelevantly themed foci of attention. Rather, so liberated by the freedom to speak honestly about any subject in an organically constructed way, the poets of the 50s and 60s were free to charge their poetry with keen insight and deeply moving emotional content.
Deep Image poetry grew out of earlier visual arts’ movements in surrealism, an approach which involves distorting reality and delving into the unconscious or subconscious. While some of the New York School was influenced by French surrealism, the Deep Image poets were influenced by Spanish surrealists. Robert Bly’s magazine (named and renamed for each decade of its existence, The 50s, The 60s) gave space to the new surrealist poetry which Robert Kelly coined in Notes on the Poetry of the Deep Image, his 1961 essay. The adherents to this school of poetry include Pablo Neruda, Louis Simpson, Mark Strand and Charles Simic.
Perhaps the primary poetic school to come out of England after WWII as a direct response to what was perceived as an “age of anxiety,” was the neo-Romantic movement called New Apocalypse. Dylan Thomas was the major figure of this poetry. He reintroduced openly expressed emotion and rhetoric into British verse. Like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake before him, he tried to restore importance and value to nature poetry.
Another important British school of poetry is called The Movement. This group includes Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie and Thom Gunn. Their poetry developed in reaction to what they perceived as the romantic excesses of the New Apocalypse group. They also rejected Keats symbolism and Eliot’s and Pound’s Modernism. The Movement was steeped in urban and suburban realities, not myth, whimsy and fancy. They affected a neutral tone.
Two very contemporary poets who inspire me are Kate Braverman and Sarah Manguso, each for very different reasons. They both have dynamic voices, though from different perspectives and in different degrees. The point is that they have definite voices which are fluid, clear, evocative and nakedly honest.
Seamus Heaney talked a lot about voice in his essay, Feeling into Words (1974), and he marked a distinction between Craft and Technique in the development of voice. Seamus Heaney capitalizes the words craft and technique in his essay, so I follow his example in this discussion. Seamus explained that Craft denotes one’s ability to manipulate the tricks of the trade; it is the learned “skill of making.” But Technique, he reveals, arises from the poet’s ability to “dig” deep into “the pool” of oneself in the poet’s “discovery of ways to go out of his normal cognitive bounds and raid the inarticulate.” Heaney continues, “Technique entails the watermarking of your essential patterns of perception, voice and thought into the touch and texture of your lines.”
Braverman is in your face dynamic. Manguso is seductive and alluring. Braverman is a tempest; Manguso a siren. But they both embody Heaney’s point. When they write, they speak in rhythms and with words and sounds which seem to fit perfectly together. They prove technique does not discriminate according to either haunting assonance or blood-boiling consonance. It is the emotion encapsulated and rivetingly expressed which can place a reader in awe. Yet, it is the embedded Technique, the ability of both poetesses to create a natural language, which allows them to effectively deliver their visions and specters.
I’ve provided a brief overview of poetry, and those poets and trends which have influenced me. I must also interject that my influences and inspirations range to writers of other genres and individuals in other fields. For my perspective, knowledge and understanding of life as well as my writing, I owe debts of gratitude to Jean-Paul Sartre, Oliver Sacks, Stephen Hawking, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Søren Kierkegaard, Vincent Van Gogh, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, Lao-Tze, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Immanuel Kant, Robert F. Kennedy, Francis Bacon, John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Walt Disney, Henry Miller, Thomas Jefferson, Abby Hoffman, Carl Sagan, Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Charles Darwin, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, John Locke, Leo Buscaglia, Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Herbert Marcuse, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Samuel Becket, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Herman Hesse, Franz Kafka, Jack Kerouac, Harold Pinter, R. D. Laing, James Joyce, Alan Watts, the Dalai Lama, Gary Snyder, Peter Sinfield, Pete Townsend, Ray Davies, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Brown, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Ian Anderson, Jon Anderson, Neil Young, George Harrison and John Lennon. I would also like to honor Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, Dante, Ovid and William Shakespeare, upon each of whose works all contemporary literature is based.
To say my magnum opus (written by a dying man over a two and a half year period from 2006 to 2008), A Critical Mass, is an epic poem is to state the obvious from the point of view of length, but perhaps not story. A Critical Mass does not tell a traditional story concerning a traditional, heroic character. One way to discover the heroic character in A Critical Mass is to place oneself into the poem, imagine living through every stage of evolution, identify with each mythological character enumerated, and immerse oneself in all points of view. Be, also, the planet Earth, and see yourself in every life form. Feel your emotions pulse as you become a star and emit light. There is a story of journey, struggle, awakening, enlightenment and transcendence in this truly new epic form.
It is, truly, a new epic form not only because it expresses a new kind of story with a new kind of character, but because I have broken the rules for epic form - I've created it while incorporating open verse styles in conjunction with more strict metyers and rhyme schemes, varying back and forth, allowing the poem to dictate its form, organically. The intended manner for discovering the heroic character in the epic is to see humanity as a whole, together with our planet Earth, as that character, struggling throughout eternity to inculcate a utopian existence and express infinite variety and possibility as evolution perpetually repaints the landscape with unending streams of diversity.
However, to inform the reader that A Critical Mass reaches far beyond the apparent subject of being a non-dual, creation myth is not an inappropriate remark for a new poet seeking innovation in his craft to offer regarding his work. I feel it behooves me to provide readers some glimpse into what I have written in order to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of my poetry.
Francis Bacon once said, “I have taken all knowledge for my province.” In that spirit, A Critical Mass incorporates Greek and Egyptian mythology, astrology, modern cosmology, physics, neuroscience, biology, quantum mechanics, logic, Kabbalah, humanism, naturalism, transcendentalism, existentialism, sociology, history, physical anthropology, economics and political science as sources for symbol, metaphor, study and expression. These fields are viewed from a highly skewed point of view influenced by my revulsion for Postmodernism, but embracing non-theism (as opposed to atheism), optimism, non-dualism (as opposed to monism) and perpetual evolution.
One will find the theme of Universal Love latent in all of my poetry. Each poem expresses a desire for Love to be life’s foundation and seeks to elevate the reader to pursue one’s own potential for perfection and to seek peace and understanding. A more detailed rendering of my personal philosophy is provided in the accompanying essays. I strongly believe no aspiring poet can approach presenting poetry of a highly emotional and evocative nature which expresses universality to unfamiliar readers unless that poet infuses their writing with a clearly defined personal philosophy which incorporates ethics, morality and a clear personal perspective into the nature of reality. I have tried to provide an understanding of my personal belief system within the content of not only my poetry, but also the essays which I have included.
Today, there are poetry movements for just about every minority and group. It also seems as if there is a trend back to Modernism in many of the voices of contemporary poets. There are more poetry journals in existence than ever: some print, some online, some both. Many are edited by minds which have been shaped and conditioned to accept the status quo. At the same time, others are highly experimental. Meanwhile, in clubs, poetry slams with radically experimental views on what constitutes art and poetry, a wilder poetry, of the people and by the people, piques an interest in a whole new underground.
Sometimes I wonder, is it really communication for a small community of like-minded people to restrict their communications to one another, and to a form seemingly only they can understand? I, for one, do not think so. I believe that such a course is elitist and narcissistic. I fear the possibility that poetry can succumb into a reverence for the status quo in such a circumstance when, through the very nature of their apprenticeship as poets, aspirants should be revolutionaries in mind and heart!
We live in a fast-paced world where instant gratification is the rule. If you want to make a purchase but are short on funds, just charge it. If you seek a piece of information, you can look it up on the internet, where, in a matter of moments and a few keystrokes on your keyboard, all factual and erroneous information on every subject is available to everyone. Individuals who intend to vote in an election for several decades now have found they no longer want to listen to long speeches in order to determine from their own analysis and interpretation what the positions of the candidates mean both for the individual and the country.
It seems huge numbers of people are content with 15 second sound bites and accept the evaluations made by pundits and preachers on how to cast their vote. Blogs populate the internet, affording everyone the opportunity to make their voice heard on any subject. Ideas, analysis, commentary and answers are everywhere available to everyone from just about anyone. Well, they exist everywhere except in most published anthologies of contemporary poetry. Meanwhile poets with much to say and offer to the world find their only avenue to expression lies in self-publishing. This severely limits the size of one’s audience, marginalizing the voices of the newly emerging poetic revolutionaries who the contemporary world vitally needs to hear and read!
The age in which we arise as conscious beings is ever-increasingly being defined by a worldwide movement not only toward the rapid exchange of information but also toward a worldwide, rapid exchange of personal opinions. Yet, many outlets for contemporary poetry make a taboo of interjecting personal opinions, philosophy, and cultural-political-social commentary. In this way, poetry potentially marginalizes itself as a communicative medium.
Poetry is still enjoyed by people the world over. However, the kind of poetry most often preferred by contemporary culture exists as lyrics in much of today’s music. World populations cannot get enough of that form. Every month, the music industry releases new song collections to the public, who buy them voraciously, consuming them immediately. Then, this public expresses its insatiable desire for more. Songwriters have not feared to include ideas, thoughts and social commentary in their lyrics for decades now, and humanity considers much of their content worthy of the classification as being considered art. The “art-worthiness” of something cannot be determined in the present and is not a concept one should strive to apply toward one’s own work. If well-crafted communication is the minimum value to pursue, let inspired and moving incantation be the aim. History can decide if art exists after we’re dead!
Let us look briefly at some of the basic, historical differences between occidental music and poetry. Troubadours tended to roam across the countryside, composing songs along their travels as pieces of comedy, romance, drama, history or tragedy. They were primarily entertainers. These same genres served poets and playwrights in their creations. Song lyrics, just like poems prior to the appearance of free verse, have form, meter and rhyme schemes. Both can (and often do) employ literary techniques such as: symbolism, simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, etc. Songs, traditionally, tended to deal with lighter subject matter than poetry.
A smattering list of songwriters (from John Lennon to Bob Dylan to Jim Morrison to Paul Simon to Peter Sinfield to Ian Anderson to Pete Townsend to Pete Brown to Joni Mitchell to Laura Nyro to Stevie Wonder to Marvin Gaye to Neil Young to Graham Nash to Roger Waters to Jon Anderson to Bono to Bernie Taupin to Sting to Bruce Springsteen to Billy Joe Armstrong, just to name of few) combine to evidence the degree of influence poetic sensibilities and universal subject matter exert on contemporary song lyrics. This movement has been incorporated by those of the streets in spoken word poetry, hip hop and rap. The success of these writers only proves the hunger in the public for a poetry which speaks directly to them and which is bold enough to lay the writers’ belief systems and societal judgments on the line for all to see and assess like Alexander Pope and others in other centuries have done in the past, knowing this is a service necessary and beneficial to humanity.
Another concern regards how the points and lessons poets wish to impart to posterity often become obfuscated by failing to deal with the concepts in even a moderate degree of straightforwardness. For instance, The Iliad was written by Homer at least in part to point out wars’ inhumanity, its terrible waste of lives, cultures, human achievement and community. This is evidenced by a variety of details within the epic.
The first example arises from the realization that every Trojan citizen was killed by the invading Greeks. If Homer wanted us to arrive at the opinion that war is both heroic and glorious, why would he write a story in which every innocent and non-culpable person met a fate they did not deserve? Furthermore, none of the Trojan citizens’ deaths were caused in the least by heroic acts perpetrated by the victors. No, the city was sacked and the populace murdered ignominiously by the Greek invaders in the dead of night, not because of some sort of heroic, glorious, against-all-odds battle, but through a ruse of subterfuge and the Trojans’ stupidity in bringing the wooden horse into their city.
The next clue to understanding that Homer wrote to denigrate war rather that extol it becomes apparent when realizing that the war was fought over a woman’s infidelity. Does anyone really believe Homer honestly wanted us to accept that any degree of beauty, even of mythic proportions as suggested for Helen, should suffice as a valid reason for a whole population to sacrifice life, limb, family and prosperity? Would it be acceptable to American’s for the U.S. to entertain a war over the reputation or sexual exploits of Madonna, Jenna Jamison or Miss America? No, while Homer provided us with additional, geopolitical concerns which fueled the war, he also made it clear, those were Agamemnon’s thinly veiled agenda, but that the other Greeks generally went to war to aid Menelaus’ in reclaiming his wife and his honor. Here we see yet another example of Homer showing the power in political subterfuge and the manifestation of machinations’ ability to control and use people without regard for their safety or value.
Another indication lies in the death of the champions for each side, Ajax and Achilles for the Greeks and Hector for Troy. None of the champions survived. One would think if war is glorious, the victory would be the result of the titanic battle between the two sides’ champions, Achilles and Ajax for the Greeks and Hector for Troy, and to the victor would accrue the spoils. That was not the case in The Iliad. Those who usurped the spoils were the least honorable among the victors! Furthermore, the war did not conclude after the great clash between the champions, Achilles and Hector. Indeed, after Achilles killed Hector, the war remained unwinnable for an approximate period of ten years until the Greeks devised the strategy of the Trojan horse.
Next, let us view the treatment of Odysseus. Here was a man who acted honorably throughout the war. True, it was he who conceived the plan to infiltrate Troy with the horse. However, Agamemnon was a tyrant, the chief architect of the war and most despicable character in The Iliad. Rather than subject Agamemnon to the ordeal described in his sequel, The Odyssey, Homer subjected the much more minor and honorable figure, Odysseus, and his completely inculpable family, to endure the affront that Agamemnon won the spoils and earned acclaim while Odysseus was sent adrift by fickle gods and goddesses for no real reason other than that he was one among all who failed to offer the proper sacrifices to the gods in gratitude for victory.
What has come to us through the ages is a completely different view of Homer’s intended meaning. War was glorified by succeeding generations because of a failure to understand the irony in some of Homer’s lines and the failure to subject the story to more rational analysis. From time immemorial, the broad population of humanity was taught by those in political control to see war as glorious, as honorable and as pleasing to the gods (and later to God). Kings, Emperors, Popes and madmen have used this epic (and a litany of later writing) as a means of subverting the will of the people, brainwashing them into jumping off whatever cliffs rulers deemed necessary.
The point of this discussion was not to provide another analysis of Homer’s great epic. This is far from an exhaustive analysis. The point is to show how real meaning can not only be misunderstood, but also subverted for ulterior motives when an author relies solely upon symbol, metaphor, irony and allusion to impart intended meaning. I believe in an unequivocal necessity for leaving a deeper and clearer indication of the poets’ intended meaning if that meaning is to stand the tests of time, language, interpretation and translation without later being subverted.
In a world in which everything is readily available to the consumer, most contemporary poetry cloaks its truths, aims, beliefs, warnings, council, hopes and fears in shrouds of obscurity (literary devices like symbol, metaphor, irony and allusion), which were conceived in the name of art, but which only serve to drive wedges between poets and potential audiences, erect barriers to communicating the intended meaning of poets to the world at large (both contemporary and future), and render the influence of contemporary poetry almost nil. Poets must relearn to identify with everyone, including the common person, give up the smug sense of superiority which is often expressed in literary devices, self-conscious stylings and forms, and the occasionally expressed condescending unwillingness to explain themselves and their poems' meanings. Poets must accept that to have any value, their poems must first communicate with an audience. To cultivate an audience requires poets to identify with that audience.
If poets have a sincere desire to broaden the interest in their art, and if they really want to fulfill the duties of social critics, historical commentators, philosophical investigators and moral compasses for society (as should be poets’ aims), they must be willing to speak to people in a language commonly in use, as Whitman, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Eliot, Pound, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg (and many others) all have indicated must be prized. I will be the first to admit that the Eliot’s revolution continues today, and use of common vernacular, as opposed to some idea of a traditional, poetic diction and vocabulary, is not the problem facing today’s poetry.
I contend it is not just a common vernacular which is to be prized in poetry, but also a common modality in communication expressed by a generation, age, movement, culture, lifestyle, economic system, and/or technological development which will impact and influence what someday may be considered as constituting art in poetry at any given time, but which, nonetheless, must be the aspiration of poets who want to reach a public and inspire that public to its highest potential. The contemporary need poetry must address is its ever-growing commercial irrelevance. That commercial irrelevance means poets are not reaching an audience and that they are, consequently, failing to inspire their generation into pursuing humanity’s highest aims.
I create poetry with these ideas in mind. I’ll be the first to admit, I am self-taught, with my own theory. I contend, however, that makes me, like Whitman, Dickinson and Ginsberg: of the people and common. But I can only hope my commonness aids in transcending barriers between my poetry and its ability to reach an audience. At the same time, my approach allows me to focus on taking the best of what I’ve learned, jumble it all together and distill it through a re-defining prism in order to color it with emotion and universality. It is my goal to find a balance in poetic-artistic sensibilities between the need to create communicative experiments which show as opposed to tell with the wish of engaging in beliefs, ideas, emotions and thoughts as well as sensory feelings in Donne’s tradition, but updated for current trends, ideas, language and modes of communication. However, in order to reach a contemporary audience, publishers must understand and accept a commensurate dedication to applying the principles for expressing artistic poetry and, more than just making future poetry available to audiences, sing the praises of this new poetry to the great public in a commercially urgent manner!
Sensory feelings are only half what makes us human. Shall we lobotomize our poetry and deny the existence of the mind in order to hold tight to some status quo perception of what constitutes art? Is it our place to try to define art in our own times and own, self-indulgent terms to benefit our individual self-interests as economic units? Is anything art if it does not communicate to a broad audience? Can we call poetry communication if no one but another poet or critic really understands what the poet seeks to convey and/or is even willing to read the poem?
I sincerely believe there is room in poetry without sacrificing “artistic integrity” for lines which provide intellectual commentary or which arrive at intellectual conclusions just as did the poets of the so-called Victorian, Romantic and Metaphysical movements from Milton to Pope to Dante and Donne through Browning and Tennyson, stretching back to Homer, Hesiod and Ovid. Shakespeare’s writing provides the greatest of all examples of intellectual verse!
Is it not the responsibility of a poet to craft beauty and elicit emotional content out of common concerns, questions, themes and judgments? I believe so! Don’t poets owe a debt of clarity, honesty and openness to their readers? Again, I believe we must address the concern that some things are too important for us not to be forthright with our insights into beliefs and understanding. I also believe we do humanity a disservice by failing to increase the impact and influence of poetry in the contemporary world, just as we debase the respect and value our current crass society and culture of consumerism and convenience hold for the poets and poetry of ages past at the same time. The more we, and publishers who do not invest commercial urgency into the collections of poetry they publish, devalue contemporary poetry and poets by failing to reach a contemporary audience, the more a commensurate devaluation of our rich, human, poetic heritage results.
One will find in my poetry an expression of fascination for a variety of techniques. The music in my poetry is enhanced by such tools as alliteration, both consonance and assonance. Atmosphere, mood and ambiance are intricately tied to setting and theme, either to enhance the desired effect or to heighten the degree of irony in the ending. Irony, sarcasm and cynicism are other tools I employ a great deal in all of my writing. One will certainly discover anger in my poetry as well, since anger is a legitimate human emotion and affects our world. I also occasionally create portmanteau words, such as “emptyrising” from my poem Wanderings.
I find line enjambment and end stopped lines both useful in different situations. I find line enjambment heightens plurisignation. I believe that by providing multiple meanings (plurisignation) to lines in poems through enjambment (which is the technique where lines are broken not at the end of a thought, but somewhere before it has resolved, allowing the inference of plurisignation’s multiple meanings), the poet causes their work to more closely mirror real life.
Symbolism is rife throughout my poetry and is steeped in the French symbolist movement led by Baudelaire. The French symbolists exploited the use of privately concocted symbols of rich suggestiveness. I attempt the same, yet in a manner consistent with Donne’s early Metaphysical poetry, meaning that I use ideas and thoughts as symbols as well as employing events and physical objects as symbols often alluding to concepts. I do not believe one can divorce one’s intellect from one’s emotional self and still synthesize meaning and understanding from experience and sensation.
I also take great care to incorporate symbolism from an impressionist point of view – meaning that even in a world we agree to accept as being objectively real, the perceptions each of us experience and conclusions we draw are all varied, or subjective. In other words, we each approach reality differently, based on individual, subjective impressions of that reality. Such a view of subjectivity implies all symbolism must be impressionist.
I also incorporate surrealism and acknowledge my debt to the French surrealist movement begun in the 1920s with the appearance of André Breton’s Manifesto on Surrealism. The book expressed Breton’s goal of aiming for a revolution against all restraints on the free functioning of the human mind. Breton suggested a universal need among individuals, and society as a whole, to end what he called the “tyranny of certainty.” He felt the more natural human state was based on error of perception, error in analysis, error of understanding, and error in conclusion. Hence, imposing a surrealist perspective promotes freedom from uniformity, which is nothing more than conformity and always yields a false sense of certainty.
The concept of certainty, in a world where objective reality can never be apprehended because of the barrier each of us imposes to it through the intercession of subjective individual perspective, is patently absurd. Consequently, one will find absurdist interjections from time to time in my poetry. Without giving up the disciplines of logic, reason, morality and convention, I believe one must loosen restraints on them in order to transcend the control they exert on the individual mind. Strip society of its tyranny over the mind and the individual will find the freedom to arrive at their unique, individual interpretation of meaning as well as be able to impose that interpretation in their life as they deem appropriate. I believe poetry is all about putting one’s faith in freedom and exploring the possibilities life presents. So, it follows that incorporating and utilizing every technique which can aid in the loosening of society’s control over the mind will find expression in my poetry.
However, I believe that combining impressionist symbolism through a lens of absurdist surrealism, while critical to creating paradoxical (and highly ironic) poetry which can aspire to challenge readers to see the world in new ways, is not enough by itself to assist an approach to transcendence. I have carried my interest for surrealism into what I call psychedelicism, which indicates the bending of the mind in order to encourage transcendence through exploring insight and opening up consciousness to previously unknown aspects of itself. Psychedelic experiences result in creative exuberance arising from liberation over accepted, normal perception. My theory of psychedelicism seeks to incorporate exalted states of awareness and mysticism to create a bridge from the mundane to the quasi-divine. The psychedelic experience arises in my poetry as poet, poem and reader all travel streams of consciousness to heretofore unimagined conceptions of reality.
I also hold that the use of these mind bending techniques will always be ineffective in leading to transcendence unless the poetry from which it springs also remains grounded in naturalism, realism, and a sense of bucolic, pastoral harmony. As a result, I seek to create a foundation in truth and reality strong enough that fancy and insight may lift readers to ride upon them and thus see both into and through reality.
An additional reason for my assertion for the need to ground contemporary poetry in naturalism resides in the realization that our era rests upon a precipice where nature is not only rapidly being erased by the ever-encroaching urban sprawl, but it is also prone to eradication due to the effects of machines, technology and the industrial revolution. The entire 20th century has been a period when nature and the wild have been devalued to the cult of money. Consequently, there has never been a more significant time in human history to extol the virtues, beauty and value of nature in its most pristine state. Reverential attitudes toward nature in one’s poetry can only assist us to live in harmony on the planet.
I also strive to integrate modern scientific knowledge with arcane classicism to challenge minds out of Postmodernism and create meaningfully ironic juxtapositions. Often, one will encounter archetypes used as symbols and actors. I also incorporate Donne’s technique of the Metaphysical Conceit, where dissimilar images are combined and the hidden resemblances in things which appear otherwise unalike are exposed. Additional techniques employed in my poetry include healthy doses of cynicism and sarcasm learned from Pope, use of the “mock-heroic” couplet (also learned from Pope), personification of inanimate objects (and sometimes even ideas), occasional hyperbole (often to intensify irony) and occasional satire.
Everyone who writes poetry seeks to incite the passions of the reader. Often poets receive little acclaim in their lifetimes, leaving, in those instances, many poets’ aspirations as appearing to later readers as having been lonely, thankless or unredeemed efforts. Still, it isn’t acclaim a poet seeks (or certainly shouldn’t be and is not my goal in the least). When the words of the muses ring in ones ears, when one cannot stop the pen from gliding across the page, and when one is compelled for no other reason than the love of humanity and the universe, then one will discover the great joy the craft and artifice can offer. If I can lift your spirits, if you can feel the emotions coursing within me, if I can challenge you to think, and if I can incite you to feel and live more fully, then my heart and soul will rejoice.
The time has arrived to pursue the fifth revolution in poetics. There have been four previous epochs in history when breaks were made with the past by devising new styles or movements to meet the changing needs of a new epoch because of the rise of a new social class, a changed world picture, new scientific theories, religious, social or economic developments, or a combination of those conditions.
John Donne was instrumental in the first revolution which pursued a course through the 1600s. He altered the style and quality of poetic sensibility and developed the Metaphysical movement. The next revolution occurred in the 1660s, when Dryden and Pope led the movement toward the heroic couplet, away from mystery and paradox, away from imaginative or spiritual pioneering, and toward a crisp, plain and effective language which seemed to record what all men were thinking in their age while commenting on social and political conditions of their times. At the end of the 18th century, Wordsworth and Coleridge introduced the third revolution to purge poetry of endemic and antiquated language and diction. Finally, as discussed, Eliot and Pound led the fourth revolution, to continue the work of Wordsworth and to purge intellectualism from poetic content.
Today, we are not only ripe for the next revolution, and not only is the state of poetry’s commercial irrelevance in contemporary culture creating a climate where the revolution is necessary if poetry is to survive as anything other than an anachronistic relic of the past without any further use to humanity, but the events of September 11, 2001 in concert with both Climate Change and the development and proliferation of the internet have created another paradigm shift in the history of humanity, the kind demanding a revolution in poetry, just as it demands a revolution in every aspect of our way of life to save us from the worst effects Climate Change can wreck and the threat of an unending war against terrorism which can never be won. That war will forever remain unwinnable because no matter how many followers of an idea a culture or nation kills, it remains impossible to kill an idea. Ideas die when their usefulness ends.
My writing seeks to be revolutionary, not just in poetry, but in all human endeavors. It expresses my desire for a non-violent revolution in which people demand their freedom, use it wisely, and respect all other life on the planet. We are living through a paradigm shift as great as the Industrial Revolution, as great as the Agrarian Revolution, as great as the Renaissance, as great as the Age of Enlightenment, or just as easily, as terrible as the Dark Ages, perhaps even annihilation. Communicative capabilities have never been more widespread, immediate or intellectually stimulating. How we react to all the crises we’ve co-created will determine our future.
This is not a time to leave the driving to others. This is a time to get involved, to be aware, to become knowledgeable and to increase one’s insight and analytic skills. I am striving to incorporate in my poetry of juxtaposing Multiplicity with Singularity and Unity, and Individualism with Interconnection, challenges to the reader which are designed to heighten the pleasure in reading as well as hone analytic skills needed for the future. My writing has been a labor of love and joy. I offer it with love, respect and humility.