Too Much to Ask?

Of all the causes which conspire to blind.
Man’s erring judgement, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is PRIDE, the never-failing vice of fools.”

Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”

Is it really, really such an odious task
during a pandemic to put on a mask?

In the Trump White House, no mask is the rule,
Targeting the base, those Kool-Aid mainlining fools.

Masks remind voters of the invisible dread
That’s left more than 200,000 Americans dead.

What dat? Sistah Karma done come a-calling unexpected?
Kayleigh and Kellyanne done been infected?

Along with Thom Tillis, Hope Hicks, Mike Lee,
not to mention Donald J Trump and the First Lady?

Do Lawd! White House itself got more cases than New Zealand,
a country of just under five million people?

So is it really, really too much to ask
in a goddamn pandemic to put on a goddamn mask?

Reactionary Conservativism and the Literary Arts

I wondered the other day is there’s even such a thing as “conservative poets” anymore.[1]

Well, it didn’t take me long to discover an anthology entitled The Conservative Poets: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by William Baer, who offers this estimation of the contemporary literary landscape:

Although it often seems that liberals and the radical Left have assumed complete hegemony over the arts, especially the literary arts, there exists a remnant of very talented American poets who create beautiful, serious, witty, moving, and diverse poetry from a conservative point of view. This unique anthology illustrates the wide range of these determined and sometimes defiant artists, who hope that their work will encourage more like-minded Americans to learn the poetic craft and pursue the literary endeavor.

By the way, Baer is a genuine scholar. Here’s his bio from Amazon:

WILLIAM BAER is the author of ten books, including ” ‘Borges’ and Other Sonnets”; “Fourteen on Form: Conversations with Poets”; “Luis de Camoes: Selected Sonnets”; and “Writing Metrical Poetry”. The Founding editor of “The Formalist: A Journal of Metrical Poetry” (1990-2004), he is currently the director of the Richard Wilbur Poetry Series, the poetry editor and film critic for “Crisis,” and a contributing editor to “Measure.”

Here’s a screenshot of the table of contents.

I tried to track down some of these poets, only to discover most had, to quote Richard Wilbur himself, “gone from this rotten/Taxable world to a standard of higher living.” The late Marion Montgomery’s “While Waiting: Lines for a Lady Suffragette, Standing on a Bus” certainly seems to adhere in some ways to an antifeminist’s view of what Montgomery might call the “fair sex.”

Ah, Lady. Ah. It is a stirring sight.

Franchisement by the gods is now complete.

You now have won the inalienable right

Of standing on your own two feet.

Alas, Montgomery checked out of this Motel 6 of Sorrow in the penultimate year of W’s second term, so it would not be accurate to name him as a conservative poet writing today.

Editor Baer in his preface admits that most of the anthologized poems’ conservatism lies in their traditional forms rather than politics, but adds, “Some, myself included, would even tend to see meter as a poetic representation of the provident order of God’s universe.”[2]

So I continued my search and found a website from 2016 called  Scholars & Writers for America. Beneath its banner this: “Given our choices in the presidential election, we believe that Donald J. Trump is the candidate most likely to restore the promise of America, and we urge you to support him as we do.”

Scrolling down my screen past names like Burton W Folsom, Jr., author of The Myth of the Robber Barons and Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute looking for a poets or novelists, I discovered, to my delight, at the bottom of the screen, Thomas C McCollum, novelist.

Here’s the second paragraph of text from McCollum’s website, from an article by Louise Cook, the editor of Absolute Marbella Magazine:

If one were to view all aspects of Thomas McCollum’s professional and avocational life, one might be very tempted to call him a Renaissance man–albeit with a strong entrepreneurial bent. Wisely McCollum leaves all such pretentions to others, preferring the doing rather than the talking about.

What follows is a most-interesting-man-in-the-world litany: Can-Am racing, bull running in Pamplona [Spain she helpfully adds], man-eating crocodile hunting, a golf-addiction, insurance sales, original pen and ink drawings street-corner sales, med-school matriculation, med-school abandonment, medical laboratory founding, medical laboratory selling, retirement to Marbella, Spain, “to live out all the fantasies of his youth. He has camped, safaried, and traveled to every continent on earth.”[3]

McCollum has published four novels: Whipsocket, Tainted Blood, Palmer Lake, and Uncle Norm.

Here are the first and last sentences from Publisher Weekly’s review of Tainted Blood.

Readers willing to suspend disbelief beyond belief may find McCollum’s first novel an interesting medical thriller; others will be dismayed by characters manipulated by incredible plot contrivances.

McCollum makes the medical details microscopically authentic, but too many standard diatribes against government agencies, characters who speak polemic as often as they do dialogue and a conclusion that’s painfully anticlimactic render a hot topic tepid. (my italics)

Now compare that MSM review to this one for Uncle Norm from Christopher Feigum, Grammy Award winner and Metropolitan Opera Singer:

“Thomas McCollum has delivered a book of operatic proportions…a tale full of intrigue that tempts us to explore the what ifs of life and the possibility of encountering one profound love. Whether he is delighting pygmies with donuts or sharing his smuggled discoveries along the way, Uncle Norm is a warm, comical hero deeply connected to his fellow lost soul in the Congo, Ottobah Cuguano, and their shared faith in everlasting friendship. As they strive to break down racial barriers and transform the world, their adventures amaze the restless traveler in all of us. This timely piece is a declaration that we each have the choice to leave behind a better place than we found.”

Oh, yeah.  There is also this snippet from of all places, Publisher’s Weekly describing Tainted Blood:  “an interesting thriller…McCollum makes the adventure microscopically authentic.”   Hmmm.  “an interesting thriller . . . microscopically authentic.”  Where have I seen that before?

So anyway, if you happen to be a Trump supporter who feels somewhat culturally isolated, there are indeed “conservative” literary artists out there working today, maybe not on the analogous level of Jon Voight and Bruce Willis, but they are out there.


[1] I don’t mean conservative in the old-fashioned sense of embracing traditional values and being skeptical of innovation, like Alexander Pope, but in its contemporary sense of someone rejects the Enlightenment and institutions of liberal democracy.

[2] Yes!

Abraham to kill him —
Was distinctly told —
Isaac was an Urchin —
Abraham was old —

Not a hesitation —
Abraham complied —
Flattered by Obeisance
Tyranny demurred —

Isaac — to his children
Lived to tell the tale —
Moral — with a Mastiff
Manners may prevail.

[3] Maybe one day he’ll write a novel called Safariing in Anarctica.

Screech Me a Poem, Sugar Britches

yeats and maude

Yeats and Maude Gonne by Anne Marie O’Driscoll

Half close your eyelids, loosen your hair,

And dream about the great and their pride;

They have spoken against you everywhere,

But weigh this song with the great and their pride;

I made it out of a mouthful of air,

Their children’s children shall say they have lied.

                 WB Yeats “He Thinks of Those Who Have Spoken Evil of His Beloved”

A by-product of breathing, that mouthful of air, exhalation tracking up through the trachea,  plucking the vocal c[h]ords: vowels, consonants, syllables, words, words, words.  Say outloud the title of this post  – “screech me a poem, sugar britches.”  Dissonant, sharp, as unlovely as the scraping of a rake on gravel, echoing  Juliet’s lament as Romeo vacates their marriage bed:

It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.

romeo-and-juliet-todd-peterson

Romeo and Juliet by Todd Peterson

Perhaps even more discordant is Gerard Manly Hopkins postlapsarian description of industrialization:

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

train-tracks-by-valerio-dospina

Train Tracks by Valerio D’Ospina

Who sez that poetry’s supposed to sound pretty?

Not Alexander Pope:

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,

The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.

Nor that barbaric yawper Walt Whitman:

Nor him in the poor house tubercled by rum and the bad disorder.

Nor Ol’ Ez in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital ranting his way to a Bolligen Prize:

the drift of lice, teething,

and above it the mouthing of orators,

    the arse-belching of preachers.

pound

Ezra Pound

Thanks to its Anglo-Saxon roots, English is well-suited to screech.  However, thanks to its French invaders, our language can also coo.  And don’t forget the ess-cee (sc) words of the Vikings with their skalds singing of skulls and skies and dragons’ scales.

English-speaking poets possess quite a synthesizer through which to sample sounds, orchestrating Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and French symphonically (Milton) or piping a simple Saxon tune in tetrameter (Anonymous).

Given global warmification/climatic alternation, the following worry may seem as trivial as the date of Alfred Tennyson’s death, but I wonder, given our beeping visual small screen secondhand exposure to actual sights and sounds, if off-the-cuff eloquence might become as rare as first edition Kafkas.

In my youth, among my compatriots, having a way with words held sway.  I think of Jake the Snake Williams politely stringing together sonorous sentences to a Jehovah’s Witness in Richland Mall explaining why he wouldn’t take the tract, and the fellow smiling, nodding his head, and saying, “Brother, you got you an excellent rap.”  Or Furman Langley lamenting in a Lowcountry gumbo of gullah-echo the legend of the Boo Hag.

0d79b4efb49e4854947f5e00ba3413ee

The “like-like” syncopatations of youthful inarticulation and the ubiquitous interrogative lilt of their declarative sentences gives me pause?

I guess it all boils down to a matter of culture.

Bewildered, bewildering primate.  Absinthe.  Circumcision.  Couplets.

Grudges., beliefs.  The war of my childhood, Europe tearing at itself.

 

Scarification.  Conceptual art.  Classic celebrated scholarly papers

On the Trobriand Islanders, more fiction or poetry than science.

 

Absorbed or transmitted always invisibly in the air

From a digital Cloud.  Visible and invisible in the funny papers . . .

                                                       from “Culture by Robert Pinsky

A Little Attention Is a Dangerous Thing

Editor’s Note: Sir Reginald Verbosoclast, whose opinions do not necessarily reflect those of You Do Hoodoo, is the author of today’s guest post.

Sir Reginald Verbosoclast

Sir Reginald Verbosoclast

A little attention is a dangerous thing, as Alexander Pope is reported to have remarked to Lord Petre after the latter allegedly snipped a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair, an incident that famously led to the launching of a thousand ships in a demitasse (as anyone familiar with the Sparknotes summary of “The Rape of the Lock” is well aware).

Via non sequitur, take Jon Ritzheimer, one of the intrepid so-called “militia-folk” who in an act of brilliant performance art has mock-heroically taken over an abandoned federal building in rural Harney County, Oregon. Ritzheimer, whose name, by the way, is German for “cracked homeland,” began his theatrical career in his one-man ballet entitled, appropriately enough, “Fuck Islam,” an outdoor performance in which he marched back and forth in front of a Phoenix Islamic Community Center wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with those very provocative words.[1] The success of this one-man show led to a sequel called “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II,” a larger production hailed by Loonwatch.com as “the height of irony.”

Mr. Ritzheimer performing the storm scene from "King Lear"

Mr. Ritzheimer performing the storm scene from “King Lear”

Lately, Mr. Ritzheimer has transitioned into film, producing a series of one-man shows distributed by YouTube.   His most recent premiered four days ago, a satiric piece in which he mocks contemporary American sentimentality. The 13-minute monologue begins with Ritzheimer’s alter ego fighting back tears as he declares his love for his wife and daughters, an obvious parody of that stale trope developed by Phil Donahue and seen countless times on celebrity interview shows like Oprah and Ellen. He then launches an epic catalogue of paradoxes castigating as tyrannical a government that allows him not only to march in front of a mosque wearing the aforementioned tee shirt, but also legally to amass a small personal armory.

Although the film is well photographed from the dashboard of his vehicle, Mr. Ritzheimer’s performance is, well, in this critic’s opinion, wooden. It lacks, in a word, verisimilitude. In other words, you can tell he is an actor playing a role. Nevertheless, Mr. Ritzheimer is obviously a very talented and charismatic performer whom I dare say we haven’t seen the last of.

Believe me, I know. There’s nothing more addictive than amassing YouTube views.


 

[1] For the sake of clarity, Mr. Ritzheimer, not the community center, was wearing the tee shirt. Ed.

Harsh Discords and Unpleasing Sharps

a rather unflattering depiction of Pope

a rather unflattering depiction of Alexander Pope

Nowadays, Alexander Pope is so unpopular that the Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society demanded his students rip Pope’s poems from their texts.   Certainly, the polished closed heroic couplets that flowed from Pope’s quill would make an incongruous soundtrack for what Eliot called “the immense panorama of futility and anarchy that is contemporary history.” Yep, the minuet has given way to slam dancing; fixed poetic forms have followed their cousin the typewriter into obsolescence.

Adieu. Toot-a-loo. Later.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the poetic confluence of sound and sense, very few poets can equal that four-foot six-inch Colossus, Alexander Pope, that satiric terror who immortalized his enemies in his verse.

Here he is on synthesizing sound with image and movement:

Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence,

The Sound must seem an Echo to the Sense.

Soft is the Strain when Zephyr gently blows,

And the smooth Stream in smoother Numbers flows;

But when loud Surges lash the sounding Shore,

The hoarse, rough Verse shou’d like the Torrent roar.

When Ajax strives, some Rocks’ vast Weight to throw,

The Line too labours, and the Words move slow;

Note how via spondees he slows down the first half of line six, a lesson learned by Frost in his short poem “The Span of Life”:

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.

I can remember when he was a pup.

Not only do the four consecutive stressed beats of old dog barks back echo what a bark sounds like, but their slowness also reinforces the dog’s old age, his sluggishness. On the other hand, the opening anapests of line two suggest the bounding energy of a puppy. Here the sound does indeed “seem an echo to the sense.”

Ultimately, Pope’s dictum demands that when describing ugliness, poets need to make their poems sound ugly, so I thought it might be interesting to check out a few great poets depicting unpleasant images and to see how successful they are in creating dissonance.

Let’s start with Chaucer’s description of the Summoner from “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.”

Click the arrow for sound:

A SOMONOUR was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face,
For saucefleem he was, with eyen narwe.
As hoot he was and lecherous as a sparwe,
With scalled browes blake, and piled berd,
Of his visage children were aferd.
Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon,
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
Ne oynement, that wolde clense and byte,
That hym myghte helpen of his whelkes white,
Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes.
Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,
And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood;
Thanne wolde he speke and crie as he were wood.

Fast-forwarding 200 years, here’s Edmund Spenser’s personification of Gluttony from Canto 3 of Book 1 of The Faerie Queene (I’ve modernized the spelling):

And by his side rode loathsome Gluttony,

Deformed creature, on a filthy swine,

His belly up-blown with luxury

And also with fatness swollen were his eyes

And like a Crane his neck was long and fine

With which he swallowed up excessive feast,

For want whereof poor people did pine;

And all the way, most like a brutish beast,

He spewed up his gorge, that all did him detest.

Although Spenser succeeds in creating disgusting visual images, I’m not so sure he’s completely successful in creating sonic dissonance.  On the other hand, note the dissonance of these lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins describing Industrial England.

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Now that’s brilliantly untuneful. Read it out loud. The rhyme toil/soil is deliciously dissonant, and seared/bleared/smeared ranks up there in rankness as well.

I’ll leave you with Master Will piping some appropriately sour notes:

It is the lark that sings so out of tune

Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.

That’s Juliet talking, lying in her bridal bed with Romeo, realizing that the bird singing outside her window is not, as she hoped, the nightingale.

Time to get up, star-crossed lovers, and march off to your doom.

No, that’s too dark of a way to end this post.

A Meditation on the Sound of Indecorous Words

Fellatio is a lovely word,

Operatic, in a way:

“The role of Fellatio will be sung

By Mr. Richard Cabot-Clay.”

*

Sodomy, on the other hand,

Lacks that light Italian ring:

Biblical, confessional,

A cry of pain! a serpent’s sting!

*

Cunnilingus could be a caliph,

Thundering across Arabian sands

Seeking long lost treasure troves

Guarded by Jinn in distant lands.

*

Fuck, of course, isn’t exotic.

Its harsh cough can cause vexation.

But when a car door smashes your fingers,

It sure beats fornication.

~Wesley Moore