Jefferson Carter

critical views on PH


Here’s John Westlake: ” If people do not write they will not get better. That is why they came here, to become better writers. You and you friend acker spouting acid into their beliefs are not helping. If anything you are causing depression to some. Your rubbish does not work on me though. Your clear attacks on me merely show stupidity. Practice what you preach and maybe, just maybe you will get respect.” 

John, you silly-billy, our bad poets will never improve by writing the same swill over and over again. They MIGHT improve if they stopped writing and started reading the best contemporary poets, maybe take a poetry writing class or join a community workshop, you know, work HARD at improving. The main issue is they don’t want criticism of any kind, harsh or gentle. They want praise, nothing more. 

Two Thousand And One by Tony Adah(9/12/2014 2:33:00 PM)

Believe it or not, I’ve seen worse. There’s a thread of intense feeling here amid the clumsiness, the usage errors, the trite images and thoughts.

Here’s Lamont-the-mulish babbling about form and content: ” For me, if I feel a poem… uses banal figures of speech, it fails in my eyes, regardless of the content.” Please, Monty, figures of speech ARE content as is banality. WTF are you burbling about?

20 9 14……

Lamont, I really don’t help from Acker. I just want you to answer three questions: 1) That old but unanswerable chestnut, what is poetry? You keep saying I defy definitions everyone else agrees on, but such definitions don’t exist. If, as you suggested, ” The Great Gatsby” were broken into lines, what essential quality would keep it from being poetry? 2) What do you mean by music? Strict meter? Alliteration?Rhyme? Music has to do with sound, with form, not content. Why is one rhythm better than another? Why are you so hung up on iambic meter?Doesn’t every line have rhythm of some sort? 3) You’ve said the more ” formal poetic devices” a poet uses, the better the poem. I know the plain style eschews rhyme and strict meter, but don’t the best plain-spoken poets use such figures of speech as similes and metaphors? 

I’ve been thinking about why I dislike so many plain-style poems I’ve been reading lately. You’re going to faint, but I agree the plain style has fostered the worst kind of flat, uninteresting verse. The chopped-into-lines personal memoirs I hate are prosaic, not because they lack music (though the music supplied by lines breaks in the hands of a good poet like Williams is both subtle and expressive and is absent from the works I despise) but because they lack vivid, precise imagery and original, profound figures of speech; it’s their content that sucks, not so much their form.

18 sep,2014

Here is Lamont babbling again about his idol Wiliam Logan: ” Logan, here, is not referring to meter and rhyme at all. He’s speaking specifically about language. He seems to be saying that, while there’s a place for the plain style, there’s such a thing as being too plain. And if one is too plain, then one is probably not creating ‘powerful, original figures of speech’, and thus not creating strong verse. In other words, no, he does not think a poet like Bukowski is equal to a poet like Hecht, in terms of pure language.” 

One of the frustrating things about arguing with Lamont is his refusal to directly answer my questions. Here’s one: WTF is ” pure language” ? Please answer. 

Willie L. exposes his ongoing bias toward meter and rhyme in 2 ways: he always cites as his models the formalists Hecht, Wilbur and Lowell (early Lowell, not the plain-spoken champion of ” Life Studies” 😉 . He himself writes in form, truly stiff and stale attempts at his kind of ” music.” Both in theory and practice, Logan IS ” referring to meter and rhyme” as the essence of admirable verse. His attack on the plain style derives from his infatuation with formal poetry. 

He (and Lamont) don’t see that the plain style fosters powerful figures of speech and vivid imagery. Bukowski sucks not because he uses plain diction but because he can’t create strong imagery and figures of speech. If Lamont and Logan read James Wright and Robert Bly and other ” deep image” poets, they’d see how the plain style necessitates other poetic devices to heighten the reader’s experience of the work. Good contemporary poets know this. Bad ones don’t.

John, I believe M. (whatever or whoever he is) is suggesting paraphrasing a poem as a first step to understanding it. Not a bad idea though many reputable poets today write work that isn’t ” subject-driven” but ” language-driven” ; in other words, you can’t paraphrase the content because the poet’s focus is on the surface of the poem’s language. Very hard to articulate what many modern poems are ” about.” Read Jon Ashbery for an example..

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Jim, believe it or not, I agree with your comments below. Thanks for using the terms poetical verse, etc. That keeps issues clear. Yes, line breaks alone do not make a good poem (poetic verse) . Your breaking your prosaic prose passage into verse doesn’t make it poetical, I agree. BUT there is such a thing as line breaks handled so well, that, if read sensitively, the breaks themselves create an expressiveness that raises the verse to something poetical (that’s why WCW’s ” Red Wheelbarrow” and plum poem are praised by so many critics, the subtle and shifting tones created by the line and stanza breaks. You and Lamont (though he’ll never read anything that threatens his rigid, stick-in-the-mud critical positions) should read the great book by Charles Hartman titled ” Essay on Free Verse.” 😉 Yes, yes, yes, those other poetic devices you mention, especially figures of speech and potent imagery, are the heart of the best verse. I like the plain style, using conversational diction, but in my work I depend as much as possible on figures of speech and imagery to heighten the poem. Alliteration, rhythm, rhyme are aural qualities that I’m not much interested in though if a line sounds clunky, if I ” scan” it, I can usually discover and correct the problem. I think EACH line, even in free verse, has a rhythm. Lamont is hung-up on his confused and confusing conceptions of rhythm. He adores iambic rhythms. So what?Most English sentences possess an iambic rhythm. 

Lamont’s knee-jerk lambasting of short-story or ” anecdote” in poetry is just stupid. There is a long and venerable history of narrative in English verse. Narrative content has nothing to do, per se, with poetic quality.

I do think Lamont and I should take a few lines from our own poems, and, through a detailed analysis of them, illustrate what exactly the f**k we’re continually babbling about.

Here’s Lamont, 

the rigid, deaf and dumb: ” I’ll never buy the idea that, if you break up ‘The Great Gatsby’ into lines, you suddenly have a poem and/or verse. Patently ridiculous. If no more than that goes into poetry, then there really is no such thing as poetry. Certainly there would be no need to teach it. Do you really have to ‘teach’ someone to reformat their emails and essays, so they’re left margin justified and not all the way across the page?-LP” 

LAMONT, YOU DRIVE ME NUTZ! ! After all my careful unraveling of the terms ” poetry, ” ” prose, ” and ” verse, ” this is your bluntly numb-nutted reaction? You’re like the wall one beats his head against, the mule too stubborn to change its habits.! If you break ” GG” into lines, yes, you’ll have a VERY LONG verse piece. It will probably rise to the level of poetic verse in many places while the unavoidable slackness in diction meant simply to inform or further the prose novel’s action will drag the ” new” work into swamps of prosaic verse. 

In what does poetry inhere? No one has been able (or will be able) to articulate that yet. What is poetry? No one has come up with a definition that even approaches the widely accepted. In a sense, then, there is no such thing as poetry, at least nothing poets have ever been able to agree on; there is such a thing as verse. There’s also such a thing as good verse and bad verse. That’s what we teach in classes, the difference between the two. ” Patently ridiculous” as it seems, learning where to break a line takes knowledge, sensitivity, and a good ear. Done well, the line break can make a free verse piece.

Lamont, I repeat: ” Give me a specific example, maybe from the pigeon poem, and analyze its rhythm.” What is PROSAIC about the RHYTHM of the line? 

And Prof. Plum, your comment that Lamont means the pigeon poem reads like a short story, not a poem, is senseless. A short story is short prose fiction. ” Their Music” is free verse. They have nothing to do with each other. Now if you mean the poem reads like a short narrative poem, I suppose that could be true, but a narrative poem is verse that tells a story, having a beginning, middle and end. The poem is not a narrative. I really have no idea what you mean unless you mean if one reads the poem without pausing at the end of the lines, it will sound like prose. Duhhhhh. That’s easily remedied. Read it like a fuckin’ poem! ! I still want to know from both or either of you WTF ” prosaic rhythms” are! ! Dull? Boring?Spaz? Huh?Give me an example! ! !

Adam, it’s never too late to be taught how to write better. There’s just so much you can on on your own, especially if you don’t read your contemporaries. Join a community writing workshop, take a non-credit university poetry writing class, listen to your betters, all of these things will help. Doing the same thing over and over will not improve your poetry. I’ve suggested poets for you to read, and all you do is get defensive and ramble on in the most ignorant way about the meaning of poetry. You know nothing about poetry! Get to work. You might even enjoy it! .

Jefferson Carter (8/20/2014 10:44:00 AM) Post reply  

Adam, if you’d ever read anything ABOUT poetry, you’d realize what a silly statement this is. There is no ” classic” style; there is pre-1960s formal poetry, which can only sound anachronistic and stuffily retro- even when done well, which your poems aren’t. C’mon, give in. Read some good contemporary poetry. You might, just might, learn something and even improve your verse. Of course, if I’m addressing a persona….

to Prof. Plum, 

sometimes you drive me to the brink of drink! ! Just because we’re on your list doesn’t make us competent poets! For Jezus’ sake, you had me tied with Lamont, after all! 

Snow’s talent is not burgeoning. He may be trying to put his feelings down on paper the best way he knows how (that’s a depressing definition of poetry if I’ve ever heard one!) , but he is not developing what talent he may have. He doesn’t read enough (or any?) contemporary poetry, he doesn’t take lit. classes or participate in a workshop, he doesn’t accept advice from other writers, he doesn’t study poetics. He just keeps writing poor poems again and again. One can’t improve that way. The sonnet you praise is larded with sentimentality, distorted with weird syntax, at odds with the meter it tries to employ; in short, it sucks. BUT I’d encourage Adam if he’d have the humility and good sense to admit he needs help if he’s ever going to write a good poem. Is that too much to ask?

Jefferson Carter (7/26/2014 1:17:00 PM) Post reply

Poemhumpers, please, please, please, read below the wonderful attempt at a sonnet by Adam Snow (Lamont Palmer) . It’s a wonder of strangely warped syntax, goofy rhymes, and sappy emotion! My favorite line, which Snow-Palmer amazingly rhymes with ” free, ” is ” the children’s laughter flows in joyful spree.” What genius! What spree!

Jefferson Carter (6/20/2014 10:36:00 AM) Post reply

Tony, what do you say to someone who thinks his poems aren’t any good? You ask him what poets is he reading. The usual (and honest) answer is none though he did read some Shakespeare and Keats in high school but doesn’t read any modern or contemporary poets. The you can ask why he wants to write poetry. The usual (and honest) answer has something to do with the cries of his unique soul, the need to express his innermost feelings, the desire to be seen as a ” poet, ” not necessarily to write good poems. Then you can say stop writing for a year or so and immerse yourself in the best modern poets. Then, if you still have that itch to write poetry, find a good teacher or join a poetry writing group and give it a dedicated shot.


Jefferson Carter (6/18/2014 10:24:00 AM) Post reply

To Bosa, Debra, and Tony: stop writing and start reading! ! Maybe some day in the future, you’ll write better poetry, but NOT until you respect poetry as an art form, a learnable subject, something much, much more than expressing the gooiness of your precious heart and soul.

Jefferson Carter (6/18/2014 10:20:00 AM) Post reply

Alexander, if I didn’t suspect your are Lamont, your comments (below) about me would please me. Yeah, Linda Gregg is really good, especially her poems in an early book, ” Too Bright to See.” She influenced and was influenced by the great Jack Gilbert.

Jefferson Carter (6/18/2014 10:19:00 AM) Post reply

Debra, really, I’m not being dismissive or nasty, but you need to STOP writing for a while and start READING lots and lots of good contemporary poets. They’ll inspire you and, more importantly, guide you to a better understanding of image, figures of speech, line breaks and stanzas, vivid diction, all the things you know little about or at least your poems don’t seem familiar with. This JFK poem is both trite and uninteresting. I know other PHers will say keep writing, keep writing, as if doing the same thing over and over will miraculously improve your poetry; it won’t. If anything, it will just confirm you in your bad habits and resistance to opening yourself to needed influences.


To all the poor folks who have suffered through Carter’s redundant prescription for learning to write poetry: don’t read anything written in the last 50 years….Beckett tried to tell us how much of a mugs game it is. The good stuff is much older…and sooooo much better. If there was a prescription it would involve leaving behind all the voices of parents or teachers….especially Carter…or anyone who has ever influenced you….then listen to birds…to crickets….to water running……forget language….it cannot describe reality anyway….but feel the pulse of life….then tap on a rock with a stick….help a bird with an injured wing…..laugh….look long at the mon when nobody is nearby…become human….but feel your aloneness….sense your mortality….then if some word comes by laugh…or ask it a real question….write that down. Now I never taught junior college….but you will come closer to the real deal this way…. 

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Jefferson Carter (6/20/2014 10:34:00 AM) Post reply

Bull, yer a stupid sh*t! I encourage the uneducated PH ers who want to write better (or even competent) poetry to read their contemporaries because otherwise they’ll sound like they’re writing from inside a just opened grave, archaic and stale. The best contemporary and modern poets are as good as the best of their forebears. Of course, an ignorant turd like you wouldn’t know that. I revere and love Shakespeare, Donne, Dickinson, Milton, Chaucer, Bishop, etc., but to imitate their styles is a sure path to silliness.

Jefferson Carter (9/6/2014 8:20:00 PM) Post reply  

Here’s Lamont the Lame again: ” JC, you rather remind me of an insane person in a mental hospital trying to convince someone that a table is a chair. Listen carefully: if you break The Great Gatsby up into lines, all you’ll have is, a NOVEL broken up into lines. Nothing more. You will not have a poem, or verse, or even prose-poetry. Your seriously tortured definitions and parsings don’t change that. You are in a very small minority in your opinion. If even Plum, or Jim agreed with you, they would’ve called the pigeon poem GREAT, like you did, and not dismissed it as a short story.” 

Lamont, your stale dictionary definitions are not very convincing (notice Jim’s earlier dictionary definition of prosaic as being prose-like…duhhhh.) My scientist son asked me why I even get into these petty discussions. I answered because you can’t have an intelligent or useful discussion unless the terms of the argument are clearly defined. 

If there is something intrinsically novelistic about ” GG, ” what is it? What ineffable novelistic quality does it keep if it’s broken into lines? Lamont, you don’t know and you can’t say. And what do you have against short stories?Historically, many great works of poetic verse have been narratives, sharing with the short story the structure and content of a story. Is that what you’re bitching about when you diss a poem as a short story?Or are you simply, as always, parroting your dislike for the plain style?You remind me of Big Nurse in a mental asylum, all starched and rigid, going mindlessly about her duties, keeping the inmates in line.



Author: xelam

The best contemporary poetry”, wrote TS Eliot, “can give us a feeling of excitement and a sense of fulfilment different from any sentiment aroused even by very much greater poetry of a past age. The twentieth-century poetry—its continuities and transformations—with an emphasis on how new poets have dealt with and radically changed poetic tradition. Modern poets have built upon and reacted to the profound legacy of Romanticism (both British and American)—its theories of the imagination, its conception of the poets role in art and society, its complicated struggle with the question of how mind, world and language interact, and its exploration of the status of art, especially textual art, in the world. Twentieth-century poets have grappled with how to make it new, This effort has entailed an even greater self-awareness about and thematization of the interplay between poetry and the world, and an acute self-consciousness about what Wallace Stevens calls the world of words we live in. Modem poetry (along with the fiction is marked by a constant struggle with the paradoxes of living in, with and through words. ( Quoted ) because Un INTELLECTUAL dice una cosa simple de una manera dura. Un ARTISTA dice una cosa difícil de una manera sencilla ... xelam kan

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