Saturday, February 28, 2009


Devotion, an early McLaughlin early solo job has been getting a lot of play around here the last month or so, mainly because the sound is raw and appealing, and what were the obvious beginnings of a commercial sound hadn't had time to become bad habits. Buddy Miles, of all people, acquits himself surprisingly as the session's designated "rock" drummer, though I wonder what the mix would have been like if it McLaughlin had Mitch Mitchell (or Ginger Baker) on hand. McLaughlin's guitar work is a wheezing grind and buzzing of devices and attachments, fuzz tones and foot pedals galore, and his riffs are choppy, sharp, angular. Larry Young is the textural component here, simply a genius on his outre minimalist take in a tradition still in the making. 

Electric Guitarist offers up a bit of a recovery of McLaughlin's verve and status after some noodling experimentation in his post-Mahavishnu work. It's something of a resume album, each track with another slew of stellar jazz men and fusioneers --Jack Bruce, Tony Williams, David Sanborn, Stu Goldberg -- playing in a variety of styles ; McLaughlin plays with the sort of frenetic heat that is breathtaking, to coin a phrase; not that he's ever been the fastest guitarist on the block--any number of nimble nitwits play guitar faster than he does with less effect or feeling--but what he does do is use the solo as a blow torch. He burns, in other words, and the neo-Coltrane chase "Do You Hear The Voices", patterned after the obstacle course dash that is the master's classic vamp "Giant Steps", we have the rare time when accelerated improvisation doesn't approximate a balloon going limp in the final stretch. The playing of Stanley Clark and Jack DeJohnette, bass and drums respectively, remind how disciplined these fellows are in the tradition. The metallic distortion McLaughlin brings to this track updates and invigorates a tireless form.

At Fillmore: Live at Fillmore East -- Miles Davis

Holds up amazingly considering the years that have passed since I've heard this;  a recent discussion on the value of the electric work of Miles intrigued me enough to listen to a  succession of his pioneering jazz-rock releases, coming finally to At Fillmore, which came as something of a revelation. As much as the trumpeter's later rock/jazz/funk fusion tended t resemble a triple large unpressed suit, Davis makes it work with trumpet work that's bold, brassy, snarky and snaky all at once as he darts between, over and through the churning keyboard dialogues of Corea and Jarrett. Jack DeJohnette and Holland are a blistering rhythm section here; the drums and bass patterns achieve the impossible, maintaining a rock beat and firm bottom that avoids the supreme tedium lesser rhythm sections contrive. Part of the joy of this early electric jazz-rock experiment is the lack of obvious heads or signature riffs that keep the music well mannered, orderly and constricted, as well as the loose ensemble fit. There are times that it seems the band is hopelessly lost in a riff fest, going toward the cliff at quick, shambling pace, but all that is deceptive; this a discipline with a different philosophy and use. This is a choice purchase.

More on Kimberly Johnson

The larger issue Johnson may well be contemplating the fact that a religion --Christianity--based, in most of it's varieties, on the premise of eternal life for the faithful depends almost exclusively on violence toward other species for the metaphors that power their theologies. Revulsion and a more extreme profession of faith seems to be the result on this narrator who seems to have considered the facts of man's participation in the food chain, a kind of faith bordering on denial. Perhaps it is, this subtext. The point, though, is that it's likely any of us and all of us would be willing to assume any kind of comforting narrative scheme to allow us a peace of mind , the equilibrium needed to meet our needs and perform our duties from morning 'til the lights are turned off in the evening.

What's remarkable about the poem is the canny way Johnson addresses our collective need to assign a narrative value to our industrialized, mechanized, institutionalized slaughter of animals for our well being as a competitive species; just as there is much trans-formative value in the lamb being sacrificed so that we can avail ourselves of the salvation that is God's eternal promise for us, we likewise distance ourselves from the entrails and viscera we've discussed with a more determined discussion of what this routinized slaughter makes possible in the greater scheme.

The argument becomes an economic one and, like the sacrifice of the lamb, it is a metaphor that assures us that a greater moral good-- the salvation our place in Heaven with the righteous practice of virtue on earth, supplying food and clothing and jobs for a population--is being served.

What I take from Johnson's poem is that the metaphors themselves serve a need perhaps larger than the ones promised, which is to disguise the brutal, food-chain nature of how species feed and prey, and to buffer us surely against a nauseating horror that would other wise make the assurances of spiritual and financial health seem a poor trade against the brutality our industries are based on. Johnson is aware of the power of metaphor and myth to elevate us and move us forward , and she recognizes as well the bloody facts these tropes are helping us transcend. If we weren't able to set these gruesome details aside, none of us would be able to get out of bed and conduct ourselves through the week in good faith.

Friday, February 27, 2009

a gratuitous swipe at MFA programs in poetry

I would generally support graduate programs in writing prose,since this is the thing that all of us live by and it is the language form that is most useful in enabling us to construct something resembling a coherent approach to a world that cares not at all whether we can create metaphors comparing unlike things in the same stanza.

The finer points of writing a prose that can best convert experience, opinion, research into material that is meaningful and useful to a reader is a goal worth striving for, and the social good it produces is rather obvious; a culture that's able to express itself better is capable of generating better ideas as well. We write our sports pages and monographs in prose, not in metered verse.

Poetry would be a side project , in my view, something to be considered as an elevated art only after some required courses in writing clear, articulate prose have been mastered; poetry is about the muddle of our thinking, the ambiguity that lies between the utterances we make, it is the feeling of being unsecured in the world when the talking and the reciting is done with. Even so, the aim is toward clarity of a kind, a connection to a world beyond the words contained in the books professional poets are loath to leave behind. It is a mistake, I think, that one should enter a program with it in mind to become a poet, the way one would become a medical doctor , or an accountant, certified by an institution. The training in poetic technique is fine with me, but only in the larger context of a system that trains graduate students to become writers rather than self-referencing log rollers.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Absolution through poetry.

The small yet dread thought most of must struggle not to give an ear to as we pass the supermarket meat section is exactly how did all those fine sides of beef, ham, chicken, turkey, lamb get to where they are, from animal to shrink-wrapped packages kept cool under glass or dangling from hooks, ready to consume. Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb among other books, phrased it well in speech I saw him give in the Seventies at an Earth Day rally, declaring that Americans are willfully ignorant of the costs involved in the manufacture of prepared food; as we roll our carts down the aisles, we assumed the shelves "are restocked by God." Ehrlich was speaking of the economic costs and how the waste was straining the resources the planet has to sustain life, but on a less alarming level there is the refusal of many of us to face the truth that animals are killed, slaughtered in cruelly efficient ways in order to speed the delivery of the meat to the grocery shelves at a reason for the hope of garnering a reasonable profit. Norman Mailer, in Miami and the Siege of Chicago, gives an especially focused account on the mechanized brutality afflicted on the gathered cattle:

Well the smell of the entrails and that agonized blood electrified by all the outer neons of ultimate fear got right into the grit of the stockyard stench. Let us pass over into the carving and the slicing, the boiling and scraping, annealing and curing of the flesh in sugars and honeys and smoke, the cooking of the cow carcass, stamp of the inspector, singeing of the hair, boiling of hooves, grinding of gristle, the wax papering and the packaging, the foiling and the canning, the burning of the residue, and the last slobber of the last unusable guts as it went into the stockyard furnace, and up as stockyard smoke, burnt blood and burnt bone and burnt hair to add their properties of specific stench to fresh blood, fresh entrails, fresh fecalities already all over the air. It is the smell of the stockyards, all of it taken together, a smell so bad one must go down to visit the killing of the animals or never eat meat again. Watching the animals be slaughtered, one knows the human case--no matter how close to angel we may come, the butcher is equally there. So be it."

Upton Sinclair, before Mailer, wrote about the splattered ugliness of the slaughterhouse in The Jungle, and in both books the point of the acute depictions of grizzly meat processing is to reveal what it is that we are shielded from and what we continually deny, that there is violence, death, what activists would call murder involved in each steak, hamburger, and hamburger we buy or make for ourselves, that our feeding on meat to both sustain ourselves and enjoy, as a residual result, as an aesthetic experience, is inextricably linked to death. An old equation, perhaps, a faint point to make, but the intent with Mailer and Sinclair's writing was to connect their readers with the thorough unpleasantness of food production, in short, disabuse them of the idea that where the delicious preparations come from is none of their concern. Disgust was a probable goal, outrage another, all with the hope that a headlong stare into the abyss would enable consumers to make better decisions about how they want to live. An experience like that does change lives. I was talking to a friend last night about Thanksgiving, and he told me about how, as a boy of nine, he went with his parents to aunt and uncle's farm for Thanksgiving and, after being allowed to play around in the farmyard and the barn with his cousins, saw his uncle bring the turkey into the barn, place the neck on a stump like we've seen in cartoons, and lop the creature's head off with an ax. The turkey flailed and ran around a bit before keeling over. That night, my friend said he couldn't eat the chicken. For what it's worth, he became a life, long Democrat. Kimberly Johnson's poem "Marking the Lambs" fairly much covers this territory, highlighting narrator, sounding as if recovering from a dull shock to the system, recounts the subjugation of the lamb. The effect is something like a camera zooming in with suffocating close-ups of struggle, carnage, and turmoil, with a narration that itself is distanced and dazed, yet putting together a sequence from the jerking commotion

As crickets geiger-up for spring, we corralthe ram lambs. They stutter and dense against the fencewheezing for the ewes. Down wince,down retch: up one and flip his back to mud,knee to sternum. The banded tail will blackto wizen, prune off easy. But marking is all trespass:thumb the soft belly to pop the scrotum out, then lunge and turnthe mind away, teeth working, working, to snap back and spit

This voice is fractured, given to half phrases and short bursts of detail, given to obscure and unexplained usages (They stutter and dense against the fence wheezing for the ewes. Down wince,down retch: up one and flip his back to mud,knee to sternum. ) leavened with inner rhymes
that rise when the description of the carnage threatens to take on momentum and overwhelm and give the lie to whatever holiday spirit a waiting family used as a pretext to gather together. Johnson, though, does not preach, nor proclaim, nor climb on a soapbox to dispense a moral lesson. The horror, the disgust, the aforementioned outrage, is buried, repressed. What the poem lacks in an obvious explicit philosophical/moral point (which some readers would prefer ) is made up in power, as witness the narrator's attempt to consume and enjoy the flesh of the creature she subjugated and mutilated :

I try not to taste but I amall mouth, all salt blood and lanolin. I heartheir bleatings through my tongue.

The poem is called "Marking the Lambs", a practice not of slaughtering lambs for food but rather a hard scrabble bit of anatomical clipping and slicing to ensure the lamb's health in the production of wool. Johnson,though, makes what I take to be an associative leap and becomes weary with the violence visited upon the meekest of animals. Clothing , food, good times, all enjoyed from the privilged position of uninterest. Awareness of how the pantry and the closet become so well stocked changes our relationship with the things we purchase; we can no longer be nonchalant about it. This had to have the loneliest dinner table this narrator had ever sat at, before a table of ridiculous bounty and a family acting out the spirit of Holiday joy (and I am assuming the poem is inspired by Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons past and present) with the taste and sounds of the sacrificed lamb protesting it's coming demise all too recent and vivid to deny. It's a moment when one realizes that the Great Chain of Being we muse over after hours in cafes or in discussions of vague spirituality is, in fact, a Food Chain, each link unbreakable and forever. 

What we eat comes back to back to be that Thing That's At Us, which we tried to assuage with poems as skilled and powerful as Kimberly Johnson's.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ted Berrigan

The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan
Edited by Alice Notely (University of California Press)

It's not enough that we have the same first name and the same Irish second initial, my attraction to Berrigan's poems was the rather nonbelligerent way he ignored the constricting formalities in poetry and rendered something of a record of his thoughts unspooling as he walked through the neighborhood or went about his tasks.
"Where Will I Wander" is the title of a recent John Ashbery volume, and it might well be an apt description of Berrigan's style; shambling, personal, messy, yet able to draw out the sublime phrase or the extended insight from the myriad places his stanzas and line shifts would land on.

by Ted Berrigan

wake up
smoke pot
see the cat
love my wife
think of Frank

eat lunch
make noises
sing songs
go out
dig the streets

go home for dinner
read the Post
make pee-pee
two kids

read books
see my friends
get pissed-off
have a Pepsi

This takes my breath away, the idea of a series of sighs and mumbled asides rise to an audible sequence and provide the minimal but powerful considered portrait of the daily grind, the awful routines we commit to rather than pursue our what once might have been thought of as our true callings; the voice hangs on the end of the short lines, as if in suspension, waiting for an affirmative line or joke to lighten the tone, but this remains the bone-picked image of borderline despair, the slow death.
"...have a Pepsi /disappear..." encapsulates the mood , and makes it clear that sometimes one feels the words one speaks to others comes from elsewhere, not our souls, certainly not our mouths.

The world radiated a magic and energy well enough without the poet's talents for making essences clear to an audience needing to know something more about what lies behind the veil, and Berrigan's gift were his personable conflations of cartoon logic, antic flights of lyric waxing, and darkest hour reflection , a poetry which, at it's best, seemed less a poem than it did a monologue from someone already aware that their world was extraordinary and that their task was to record one's ongoing incomprehension of the why of the invisible world.

The Crisis in American Poetry: NO MORE GREAT POETS??

New York Times writer David Orr begins a recent article with a great hook for poetry readers, that Library of America has issued a volume of poems by John Ashbery. Terrific enough, we think, but this a segue for what he really wishes to talk about, that the publication of this particular volume of Ashbery's poems signals that soon we will be without a Great American Poet once Ashbery, now 83, passes on. He writes What will we do when Ashbery and his generation are gone? Because for the first time since the early 19th century, American poetry may be about to run out of greatness.  The entire  piece can be read here.

A decent read, as far as it goes, but there's something that sounds much too ginned up about Orr's assessment. The sudden obsession with greatness in American poetry seems a phony crisis amid a plentitude of real ones. Greatness in a poet is not at once obvious, and in fact one must confess the great reputations of Whitman, Stevens, Williams and even Ashbery himself are socially constructed. It has everything to do with an accumulation of critical opinion, a subjective lagoon if one ever existed in nature; Ashbery, great as I think he is, didn't come by his greatness over night, and I think the best way he got his current stature is the fact that he didn't die , he didn't quit writing, and he kept publishing. I doubt there's anyone we'd consider a Great American Poet who didn't come by their standing as Great much the same way. One might also remember that our great poets in their day became great over turning previous standards and establishing their own, signature innovations that, in turn, became the standard for generations afterwards. Ashbery is the last great American Poet of his generation, perhaps, but he isn't the last great poet this country will ever have. 

Saying so falls into the fretting, hang wringing sub-Spenglerites who want to predict the death of various arts and institution--the novel, painting, theatre, whatever is old, venerated and in need of a bullet to the head. It's a straw man argument; what we'll have is a new standard, introduced by a generation interrogating an critiquing the previous efforts and ideas of the older avant gard, poems and ideas most of us will no doubt be disgusted by, but new ideas that, with time and new distribution technology, will become a new standard, an addition to the canon, until such time their sons and daughters figure it’s time to knock the current crop of musty posers from their pedastals.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A statement about poetry

The validity of any theory of poetry rests in how well it works in actual poems, not in how well turned the theoretical phrasing is.
There should be an absolute minimum of poems about poetry; poets, regardless of politics or aesthetic preference , really need to turn their language skills to the world and not onto themselves or their craft. Poems about poems , for me, is analogous to building cars from the spare parts of old cars--the enterprise will just collapse under it's own conceited laziness unless something fresh, alien and external , from outside the poet's subjective being and his or her ingrained habits of rhetoric, that would challenge the given assumptions a habit of phrasing would other wise lead a poet to rest upon. The poem is a vehicle to engage reality, not to wish it away with an obsession with it's own form.

Difficult poems are not to be discounted merely because they're difficult. There are poets who layer their works in ways that reward the effort to understand them on their own terms. There are things that cannot really be written about simply, and require genius to have the language extended to the point that a carnivalization of our paradigm can be contained with the word systems we were born with--Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson come to mind.

Clear, concise, "objectively" coherent poems are not to be discounted merely because they make sense to the reader in more conventional ways. There's quite a bit of complaining about the "School of Quietude" that dominates poetry awards, and for the most part I share the disdain--faux confessional bits of inconsequential meditation that does not arise above a listing of wistfully arranged images and an implied, defeated sign, all in the moment. It's off putting and it's a cheat on the craft. But there poets who can compose the lyric that can bring a number of ideas , images, bits of memory to a single moment, a synthesis perfectly realized, truthfully told, without verbal padding. I think of Thomas Lux, my friend Peter Dragin, Paul Dresman, Kate Watson. This is not to say that these smaller poems are the only things these writers compose, far from it. But the smaller ones, about smaller things, should be respected when the near perfections are created

An absolute minimum of literary language and reference; excessive reference to other writers , philosophers, and the like makes me think that someone is hiding their college syllabi and hasn't yet learned to write honestly about their experience. Other writers should be the models, not the frameworks of what a younger poet writes.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rae Armantrout Tonight at D.G.Wills Books

D.G.Wills Books: "Acclaimed Poet

Rae Armantrout
will read from her new book
Saturday, February 21st, 7pm .

Rae Armantrout has always organized her collections of poetry as though they were works in themselves. Versed brings two of these sequences together, offering readers an expanded view of the arc of her writing. The poems in the first section, Versed, play with vice and versa, the perversity of human consciousness. They flirt with error and delusion, skating on a thin ice that inevitably cracks: “Metaphor forms / a crust / beneath which / the crevasse of each experience.” Dark Matter, the second section, alludes to more than the unseen substance thought to make up the majority of mass in the universe. The invisible and unknowable are confronted directly as Armantrout's experience with cancer marks these poems with a new austerity, shot through with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking. Together, the poems of Versed part us from our assumptions about reality, revealing the gaps and fissures in our emotional and linguistic constructs, showing us ourselves where we are most exposed. Rae Armantrout is Professor of writing and literature at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of ten books of poetry."

Friday, February 20, 2009

A poem by Peter Dragin

One of the grand things of being a minor poet is that one gets to make friends with those who are just better poets, but interesting and utterly cordial folks. Peter Dragin is one of these folks, a writer with whom I was in the 1996 anthology Small Rain: eight poets in San Diego. with an elegantly Buddhist drift who has the ability to frame an irony or adjudicate contradictory perceptions with an elegance I find marvelous. I have simply wondered time and again just how he can make his associative leaps without leaving a long trail of language in his wake; it's not that he's getting to a point in his poetry, he's arriving at a destination.I've been struck by a particular poem while re-reading sections of the anthology, "There Are No Alternative Fuels", appropriate to the current alarm of global warming and financial meltdown.

Peter Dragin

We are all in all afloat
in the empty space
of our atomic flesh:

presence once arrived
greets presence
ever arriving

in the house
made of heat;

in the forest's
hospitality to
the rising sun's light,

in prime ordered
stillness and silence

where birds wing and
make song as they warm

dwells the work.

Each compression and expression of lips, teeth and tongue,
imagine it makes one dawn,

imagine brain's measure
in vibrant silence and heat;

we are all
Ancient in Days, so

tell me what you could
possibly want
from torching the Amazon,

the rape and mutilation
of every family
tribe and nation on earth:

what's your pleasure?
A car of your own?

Peter, it seems to me, identifies us all as creatures requiring heat to survive just as the planet requires the heat of the sun to thrive and sustain it's life cycles, but confronts what happens when we want more heat than what we need. We become drunk on what it is combustion can power, and we assume a kind of entitlement to having resources used to drive our convenient technology. We are the same, he writes, "We are all in all afloat /in the empty space of our atomic flesh", linked to a seemingly unlimited chain that links us to every living thing and every particle of air, but we have forgotten that our lifestyles, not just our individual actions, have consequences. Our economics and the popular culture it sustains is destroying the fertile ground every species being and living specimen require to live and reproduce.  It's a world seared by the accumulated residue of whole cities, suburbs, country sides full of citizens letting their cars idle , their air conditioners run, their televisions blasting, the inert remnants of coal and oil fires falling on our skins, choking our pores, infecting our lungs, darkening the sky, murdering a planet that was once balanced. The Eden that Peter imagines here is mythical, to be sure, and it seems he sets this up to make a point that comes straight ahead, catching you surprised. So, here we are at the end of the world that didn't have to come, and what was this sacrifice all for?

Our right to get and run our "stuff"?

The past never happened

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a couple of years ago that the world he now lives in less nice, less patient, less sane than the world he grew up in. Typical for columnist faced with deadline without a lead line, the writing machinery shifts into automatic pilot. Brooks' machinery on this day is a time machine, where we find a wonderful country called The Past. Brooks seems to visit there quite often, perhaps with a wish to be represented in better days by having his profile caught on canvas by a visiting Norman Rockwell. 

The general drift is that maybe Americans were smarter than we are now, that there was a classier way of comporting yourself through both "good wars" and less dramatic circumstances by an adherence to a private code of integrity, that magazines and publishers and the like weren't afraid to offer up features on art, opera and serious literature as means to improve the soul of its readership. Sigh...Brooks must have been having a John Cheever moment, full of diminished, muted light, chiming sounds and the smells of fall , only unlike Cheever, who realized that such security found in the lap of absurd privilege is fleeting and not a panacea for the stress that creases the soul, our columnist seems to believe the mythology of his own youth. Cheever, a noted alcoholic who conquered his affliction for the sauce late in his life brought from that experience the notion that nostalgia, untrammeled, untamed and wallowed like warm mud, is a slow and odious death of the spirit. Rather than rage, we get sighs and regrets, rather than laughter, we get weeping. Brooks reads as though he's on the border of crossing into the land of What If... Interesting, of course, that he places his nostalgic wanderings in the page of old magazines, when there was much less media to tell us how the world worked and what it all meant. It was easy to flip through these pages from decades ago and be able to conceptualize the world as a place where only a limited number of significant things happened from week to week; this was reality presented to us as lateral narrative. 

The truth is not that the world used to be better and has become worse, more coarse, but rather it's gotten bigger, continuous, multi-headed, sleepless, with a limitless range of Internet, cable and satellite venues to tell us what in the world is going on, with limitless slants, angles, perspectives, interpretations and fanatical absolutism to color each and every report. Brooks mourns the death of the Grand Narrative, the unifying but frayed line that connects the progress of our race through time, and finds himself upset at the surfeit of smaller narratives that have their particular ideas of history, culture, religion, political expedience. Brooks has a bad case of Post Modern Condition. A typical symptom is the writing of columns like this one that, while well phrased and richly detailed, actually has no message other than that things aren't what they used to be. The harder lesson after that is realizing that things never were they way they used to be.

Poe's Memory from Before Birth

It would be a mistake to approach Edgar Allen Poe with the expectation that there's a solid intellectual argument occurring in his poems.He might insist that there is, in his essays like "Eureka" that have been unearthed over the decades by scholars trying to bring the poor Poe man up to par with the smartest literary sorts, but the fact is that Poe was not much of a thinker. He wasn't a thinker, but he did give articulation to undercurrents of human desire that have had, perhaps, a farther reaching effect in the culture than any straight explication could have.In any case, I think it a mistake to approach Poe with the expectation that there's a solid intellectual argument occurring in his poems.He might insist that there is, in his essays like "Eureka" that have been unearthed over the decades by scholars trying to bring the poor Poe man up to par with the smartest literary sorts, but the fact is that Poe was not much of a thinker.

He was a , as a poet, a virtuoso of leaping rhyme and alliteration and had a chiming quality that could suggest the phonic equivalent of fifes, flutes, bells and other kinds of sparkling effects, but he was also a a genius of mood, despair, obsession; much of the time what the artist explores and renders exposed in terms of material we learn from is not the result of conscious decision.(One does admit, though, that his dissociation of sensibility in the sheer sensory overload of decay that made his metaphors and similes ripe with rot likewise sacrificed sense and logic and as often as not became a species of hackwork, an exercises of hackwork the writer of which tried to elevate to greatness by extreme bouts of overwriting the same limited scale of ideas.)"The Raven", "Lenore", "Annabelle Lee" are fairy tales for depressives, explorations into a world where everything has run down and had the joy sucked out of it; the correlation with the bruising details of his own rearing is obvious enough.

Poe was a precursor of decadence to come, through which beauty had been redefined as something being achieved only in a living thing or object's point of decay. Poe's is the poetry (and stories)that gave rise to the notion that funeral detail and a desire for the last nap called death are attractive and to be desired, and suggesting that the the dark side was actually a means to achieving a higher aesthetic being.

Poe's work is about disintegration, evaporation, dis corporation in all manner, where expertly honed rhymes and rhythms of his writings disguise but then reveal the burning, churning glory of pure form, energy, freed of the bondage of corporeal existence. Poe wrote quite a few essays outlining these ideas, particularly "Eureka" and "The Philosophy of Furniture". In his fiction, "The Fall of the House of Usher" is his most vivid and brilliant realization of his idea of metaphorical entropy.He was a , as a poet, a virtuoso of rhyme and alliteration and had a chiming quality that could suggest the phonic equivalent of fifes, flutes, bells and other kinds of sparkling effects, but he was also a a genius of mood, despair, obsession; much of the time what the artist explores and renders exposed in terms of material we learn from is not the result of conscious decision."The Raven", "Lenore", "Annabelle Lee" are fairy tales for depressives, explorations into a world where everything has run down and had the joy sucked out of it; the correlation with the bruising details of his own rearing is obvious enough.

In one of his essays, Edgar Allen Poe summarizes one the essential elements of his philosophical musings by asserting that we are cursed with "the memory from before birth", a slight and wavering recall of a time when calm and serenity were in place and there was nothing of the distortions or crass money, family, or religion to make us nervous, devious, only half alive (if "alive" at all). The upshot of his baroque hypothesizing was, to be sure , our constant and at times overwhelming desire to return to such a nocturnal, darkened, stress less state, a return to the womb, perhaps; in any event, his misgivings were a desire for sleep from which one needn't wake up from, death in other words.

Following suit are Poe's peculiar interest in things decadent and decaying, those thin , reedy and tubercular characters of diseased gentry and errant aristocratic stock who hang on to the waking life by a mere thread, effete and defeated and gracefully blended into the material realm, waiting for gravity to take its toll and to become themselves receivers of the dirt nap, freed of the binds that only punish you for having nerve endings.

There was, among the decadent writers and artists following Poe, a literal worship of an aesthetic principal that the greatest beauty was in a person or a thing in it's decline, when it was letting go of the struggle and was reduced to it's basic, most true and frailest form. An aspect of this, I suspect, was envy of the declining aesthetic object, be it a human or a diseased elm; a deep and permanent rest awaited them, and death would be that thing that gives the lie to the certitude of philosophy or economic determinism that insist that life must forever be thus, a certain way, without change. Those who die have escaped, and there are no arms to bring them back to suffer more with the rest of us pining over a grave.

Poet Patricia Traxler gets all this wonderfully in her poem The Dead Are Not in this week's Slate, succinctly in her poem The Dead Are Not; as rob and others have already remarked, the poem is brief and each finessed line conveys the complicated, conflicting and confused set of emotions one
journeys through as yet another death comes closer to one's inner circle of confidants and family. Indeed, the dead are not dead yet,

Always they take
their time, and we wait
politely, dreading
how real it will
have to be, sooner
or later, and at the
same time longing
to know that reality.

There are arguments one has with the departed, negotiations still in session, curses and protests of undying love are uttered, self-recrimination and blaming goes on for days and nights until one tires of the their tears and breathes easier because sunrises still come inspite the weight of grief. We mutter to ourselves that the dead are
"in a better place", that they "felt no pain" or that
" least they died quick..." all so we get on with our lives and our responsibilities, and yet an echo of our accepting rhetoric stays with us as we shoulder our daily responsibilities, that "better place" doesn't sound so bad, and we become envious and petty all over again, we blame the dead for being cowards and laggards who would do anything to shirk their duty, and we come to envy them and that place they've gone. Gravity takes its toll, our bones ache, the mailbox is filled with bills, someone else you know has told you they have a fatal disease, your back hurts like shit:

Nights, as we reach
to switch off our bed lamps
and close our eyes,
we dare it to take us
into its mouth
that smells of tar,
saltwater, sludge,
take us up then let us
tumble endlessly,
blameless again
and helpless as any new life
forced out for the first time
into the terrible light.

Traxler gets to the center of that guilty little secret
at the core of grieving, the scourge of envy and the many faces and tones of voice it takes. Without metaphysical baloney, faux piety, or even a tone of anger, she writes in the cool, reflective calm of someone who has investigated their feelings and discovered an unknown fact about their thinking. This poem has the remarkable clarity of genuine self-sight, unnerving in its tone, beautifully expressed. Her skill gives us the chance to see something very private, unobscured by clouds of delusion. A very fine poem.