The HyperTexts

Eratosphere ... or ... Erato, Speared?

by Michael R. Burch

Before anyone spears me along with Erato, please consult my footnotes. This poem is entirely tongue-in-cheek, for the purpose of making a point, and is based on things a few (but only a few) Eratosphereans said themselves in my "Love Has a Southern Flavor" thread. (As Casey Stengel said, "You could look it up.") My main point is that the poets of a forum named after the ancient Greek goddess of lyric and love poetry should not repeat or re-bleat the ridiculous idea of William Carlos Williams and his ovine disciples that abstract words and ideas — for instance, love — have no place in poetry. My poem’s foil is not anyone in particular, but a phantasmal composite of WCW and a dead, utterly forgotten Formalist foolish enough to have parroted "no ideas but in things" (the mindless mantra at the root of the current irrational bias against abstract words and ideas in poetry). My poem and the accompanying essay are not directed at Eratosphere or any living poet, but merely use the name of the site and some inexplicable remarks by a few of its poets for ironical purposes.

Erato, Speared

for William Carlos Williams
il minore filosofo

I. The Burial of the Dead

Erato, speared? Thorn-crowned, blood-smeared?
Her disciples axed her — ain’t that weird?

Erratics of the Sacred Forum
dispensed with Love in a late-night quorum

as Caiaphas and Judas once
played Genghis Khan to a bookish dunce

while Jesus arched one eye and groaned
beneath the lash. The world bemoaned

his pallid Delilahs. But what of hers?
To have such suitors — what a curse!

(But will she rot in some loathsome tomb
or, resurrected, come, spell their doom?)

II. They paved Paradise ...

The oracles of dogmatism
had outlawed love, light, optimism,

all things magnolia-drenched and sweet,
preferring asphalt and concrete;

but who can credit anyThing
such pale petty Pollies "sing" to their King?

III. What the Fog Said

"This cloying word, this ‘love’? You jest!
Erato wears a chain-mail vest

and chaster panties (extra-large)
and putters off on an iceberged barge

through arctic tracts, where human hearts
are stiffer than those unused parts

of frigid bards who, shivering, write
cold diatribes against delight."

IV. – Little Ribbing

I met a strange composite being
purblind beyond all vision, or seeing,

who told me many secrets — such
as why most poets’ dates are Dutch.

I found his wisdom so profound
(his box reeked six feet underground)

that all I could reply was "ah!"
He seemed to know most every law,

but mostly: "THOU SHALT NOT! Gee! Haw!"

V. – The Chaste Land

I think that I shall never see
a bard as difficult as the
less musical image of Tse-Tse.

In any case, his case is found
(as I have stated) underground,
with worms as ah!-somely profound.

He sprouts there magically, like beans,
and claims to know what Cantos mean,
but friends, we know why things turn green.

VI. – The Reburial of the Dead

Toujours en vie! He’s resurrected
Poetry to be dissected

by his anal analyst
while her true lovers are glibly dismissed

with strident lemmings’ parroting
of Williams’ simpleminded "Thing!"

as if somehow the Godhead might
descend — White Dove! — approve, alight,

and shower great favor on some pale Judas
whose only real talent’s exposing his nude ass.

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Footnotes:

Please keep in mind that this poem is a lark and that any resemblances of its speakers to persons living, dead or undead are merely coincidental, being based entirely on little snippets of critiques taken from my "Love Has a Southern Flavor" thread on Eratosphere. If the poets I quoted didn’t mean what they said, they shouldn’t have said what they said, in public. But I don’t know any of these poets well and am merely creating fictitious characters who say unreasonable things because they haven’t bothered to examine their beliefs or think things through, critically and independently.

"Erratics" — A pun on "erratic," "airy attics" and "Erato’s tics." It seems endlessly odd for the poets of a forum named after the goddess of love poetry to object to the word "love" appearing in a love poem, and to object to an exceedingly mild personification of love (if it was even that), when Erato is the very personification of poetry, and especially of LOVE POETRY.

"dispensed with Love" — This is taken from the critique of a poet who said that the mere sight of the word "love" had almost caused him not to read my poem in the first place. He advised me to remove the word "love" from my poem, then proceeded to show me how to accomplish that magnificent feat.

"magnolia-drenched" — I was informed by another poet, Michael Cantor, that my poem was a "magnolia-drenched Hallmark" and that he realized his words constituted a cliché (presumably because someone else had used the term before him, and all terms become clichés the instant they’re used), and that he was using the cliché purposely to help me understand the magnitude of my error (or something to that effect; I paraphrase). Of course if he was correct, every word in the English language would be a cliché, having been used multiple times before. I liked "magnolia-drenched" and decided that I simply had to use it in a poem, so here it is. Like all poets, I use words that have been used before in my poems, else no one would be able to understand them.

"dogmatism" — A pun: "dog-mat-ism."

"asphalt" — A pun on "ass" and "fault."

"concrete" — A pun on "con" (swindle) and "Crete" (the site of the famous Labyrinth).

"preferring asphalt and concrete" — When did Formalists become the disciples of WCW, the arch anti-formalist who tried to strip poetry of meter, rhyme and form? Of course WCW also suggested banning abstract ideas from poetry with his goofy "no ideas but in things" formula, which would mean junking "Beowulf," "Paradise Lost," all the best ballads and dramatic monologues, and all the verse plays, soliloquies and philosophical sonnets of Shakespeare. It would also ironically mean junking the best poems of modernism, including "Leaves of Grass," "Dover Beach," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "Little Gidding." According to Formalists, WCW was wrong about meter, rhyme and form; did he suddenly become a genius when he blabbed about banning abstract ideas from poetry also?

"anyThing" — WCW and his disciples created a false god, the Thing (concrete imagery).

"King" — WCW, the messiah of this new false religion: the divinity of the Thing.

"this cloying word, this ‘love’?" — The word "cloying" (as in "sickly sweet") was used multiple times in my thread, in reference to the word "love" and the abstract idea of love. But what on earth is "wrong" with either the word or the idea?

"chain-mail vest / and chaster panties (extra-large)" — In my poem, poets terrified of (or prejudiced against) the word "love" metaphorically don chastity (chain-mail/male) bras and panties.

"iceberged barge" — A far less luxurious Titanic.

"cold diatribes against delight" — Obviously I am aware that the poets of Eratosphere are not prudes. My poem is a satire and the object of its derision is not prudishness about visceral sex, but the thoughtless dismissal of the abstract goddess of love poetry, Erato, and the word "love."

"I met a strange composite being" — In "Little Gidding" the mature T. S. Eliot meets a man who seems to be a phantasmal composite of poets of the past: Swift, Yeats, Dante, perhaps others. In my poem the encountered being is the amalgam of WCW and some nameless, utterly forgotten Formalist who got snagged into the same grave for believing the same inane crap.

"Tse-Tse" — Conrad Aiken’s pet name for T. S. Eliot.

"less musical image of Tse-Tse" — WCW, who was the least musical of the major modernists.

"that all I could reply was ‘ah!’" — Here, "ah!" is a pun on "awe."

"He seemed to know most every law" — Many contemporary poets seem to have believed every irrational edict of modernism: THOU SHALT NOT employ meter, rhyme, form, abstractions, sentiment, praise, elegy, romance, enthusiasm, optimism, common words and phrases (the building blocks of poetry, as if bricklayers shouldn’t bricks unless they’re stunningly original), interjections (like "oh!" which we use constantly in the real world), intensifiers (like "really" and "very," which modernists like James Joyce and Henry James used freely), repetition of words in close quarters (which Joyce used frequently), adjectives, adverbs ... the list is near-infinite, and infinitely stupid. Poets like WCW wrote themselves into increasingly tight boxes, which eventually became their literary coffins. Anyone who has read the truly great modern poets — Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost and others depending on one’s druthers — should know they didn’t subscribe to these stupid "rules." Nor should anyone with a functional brain.

"things turn green" — Things can turn green for various reasons, and this phrase is purposefully ambiguous. What I have primarily in mind here is rot, gangrene, pus, infection.

Again, please keep in mind that I am not indicting Eratosphere, or any living poet. I simply took what a few poets actually said and explained where the bad thinking originated. Poets should be free to write about anything, using all the proven techniques of the tradition (and yes, the tradition now includes modernism). If poets are able to develop new techniques that work, they should be able to use them too. We don’t try to make love in straitjackets, so why should poets try to write love poems in straitjackets?

The HyperTexts