Let’s Bring in Some Pillars and Resurrect Cecile B DeMille

I’m teaching Paradise Lost for the very last time, a poem I absolutely love.

I love its baroque poetry. Here’s Satan regaining consciousness after being flung across the cosmos into the fiery pit of perdition:

At once, as far as Angel’s ken, he views

The dismal situation, waste and wild,

A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,

As one great furnace flames.

And I love Satan, tragic antihero extraordinaire.  Here he is, going all existential, vaunting heroically to his nearest mate Beelzebub:

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

What matter where, if I be still the same,

And what I should be, all but less than he

Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least

We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

But later, outside the gates of Eden in a soliloquy to the sun, he becomes perhaps the greatest of all tragic heroes, giving voice to his anagnorisis:

Me miserable! which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;

And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep

Still threatening to devour me opens wide,

To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven

Here he sounds like John Wayne in a western:

Whence and what art thou, execrable Shape,

That dar’st though grim and terrible, advance

Thy miscreated front athwart my way

To yonder gates? Through them I mean yo pass,

That be assured, without leave of ask of thee.

The poem encompasses all of time (the war in heaven precedes the creation of earth) and all of space (hell is on a distant planet on the opposite side of heaven).  Not only that, but Milton also evokes the Holy Spirit as a muse so he “may assert Eternal Providence,/And justify the ways of God to men.”

I teach the poem as adventure, as a sort of Marvel/DC Comics movie wannabe with Satan as a super-super villain who out-Hulks the Hulk, o’er leaps Spiderman, makes Superman seem like a patsy in comparison.

For decades, I’ve put on this shtick where I pitch an investment opportunity to the students.  I argue that PL would make one kickass blockbuster recordbreaking animated epic motionpicture experience.[1]  For a mere 100K investment per student, I could get the project off the ground.

Truthfully, PL really would be, if you could get around the fullfrontal nudity of Books I & IV, profoundly entertaining.  Certainly, the poem’s noble aspiration to justify Christianity should offset the horror that the darkened pigmentation of aureoles seems to provoke in red-blooded Americans. After all, we could run this disclaimer from Milton himself:

Nor those mysterious parts were then concealed:

Then was not guilty shame. Dishonest shame

Of Nature’s works, honour dishonourable,

Sin-bred, how have ye troubled all mankind

With shews instead, mere shews of seeming pure

And banished from man’s life his happiest life,

Simplicity and spotless innocence!

But dig this: as I was scouring the internet looking for images the spiff up my Keynote presentation, I ran across this fake trailer for Paradise Lost, the movie. Dig it:

 

I mean, y’all, just sayin’.


[1]Look at me going all Joycean with these fused compound adjectives.

Tied to a Stake

 

Tied to a Stake

 

“They have tied me to a stake: I cannot fly,

 But bear like I must fight the course.”

                                                                        Macbeth

Insomnia’s got me tied to the stake,

And the dogs of thought are snarlin’.

 

Is 3 AM too early, or is it too late?

How about fronting me a Klonopin, darling?

 

Too much screen time, not enough exercise,

A gumbo of gone-bad cod bubbling in my head.

 

O god, three hours from now, I’ll have to rise,

and shuffle off to class, the walking dead.

 

Open your books to page 77

Let’s see what John Berryman has to say

 

in this poem that he directs towards heaven,

in this poem where he pretends to pray:

 

Forsake me not when my wild hours come;

grant me sleep nightly, grace soften my dreams.

 

My speed freak heart’s drowning him out like a drum,

Way too much caffeine, not enough cream.

 

Shuffling Off to Brownsville

Shuffling Off to Brownsville

1 November 2018: Soldiers Deployed to Border to Confront the Saddest Caravan This Side of the Bataan Death March

 

You may know the mid-century cliché,

the crazed artist

spazzily slinging

paint on canvas,

an object of derision.

That’s the Trump Presidency,

sort of,  kind of.

Clown hair instead of beret,

and it’s shit being slung not paint.

Splat!

distracting you

from yesterday’s

splat!!

the story about

Splat!!!

Splats of yore — outrages

from. like two weeks ago,

have already disappeared,

hardened, crumbled into desert dirt.

Splat!!!!

Clunky Titles, Funky Poems

Relatively early in his career, Yeats would come up with long, unwieldy titles for some of his poems.

Here’s one:

To a Poet, who would have me Praise certain Bad Poets, Imitators of His and Mine

You say as I have often given tongue

In praise of what another’s said or sung.

‘There politic to do the like by these;

But have you known a dog to praise his fleas?

 

So in this vein, I humbly present:

A Subliterate Buddhist with Work Issues Writes to His Love Seeking Seventeen Syllables That Will Deliver Him from the Eternal Cycle of Birth, Suffering, and Death

 

Oxygen, shallow breathing, white noise, now!

O, lay a haiku on me, sweetie.

This here samsara got me so so down.

 

These damned desires breed so much sorrow.

Can’t concentrate on my breathing.

Got so much shit going down tomorrow.

 

O, O, O, lay a haiku on me, my love,

A haiku with the hashtag samadhi,

One that makes me the one I’m not thinking of,

One that will set this monkey mind free.

 

 

Um, om?

 

Prufrock Turns 103

at the Commodore Club

Prufrock Turns 103

Time for you and time for me

[to hear J. Alfred read his poem, click the arrow below]

 

South of menopause,

unmarried

straight

women

and men

cannot really be

platonic friends.

 

When push

comes

to thrust,

the he is going to be

libidinous.

 

So, madam, be careful

not to compliment

those cuff links

or straighten

that lapel,

or soon enough

you’ll find yourself

throwing off that shawl,

turning towards the window,

and saying,

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”

A Morning after Flamenco

IMG_4623.jpeg

 

When I was little, when away,

I suffered homesickness,

Though my house stank

Of stale (and fresh) cigarette smoke.

 

This hotel room shares the same smell,

The smell of disappointment,

Of tattered smoking jackets.

 

Outside, trucks idle,

Doors clang shut, the blue sky stretches

Across Andalucía and Africa.

 

Stretches,

Like one just awakening.