Thursday, December 03, 2009

Henry did not waffle

Fowler's back, and about bloody time:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dead Grandpa Falls Down Stairs Quietly

Dead Grandpa fell down stairs last night. He didn't
bump much, a thing of ectoplasm mostly,
but made the clocks run backwards 20 minutes,
and all the photographs began to weep.

At times like these we know Dead Grandpa's with us,
a waning disincarnate sort of Gramps
who knows things--like what fish forks are--he never
knew before, but he cannot help us much.

He tries, we know: that's why at 2 a.m.
he's mounting stairs and falling, featherweighted,
on the Oriental runner in a heap,
light, light, like the yellow leaves or spindrift.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why is there a "their" there?

In the CHE today "Female Science Professor" writes, "If you don't like another professor, don't take your dislike out on their students and postdocs." I am always irritated by that use of "their"--the plural pronoun with a singular antecedent, utterly illogical, calling attention to its lack of gender bias.

Mine doesn't seem to be the majority view. Those whose opinions I respect remind me that the usage goes back at least to Shakespeare,"God send every one their heart's desire!" Thackery writes, "A person can't help their birth." And "in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves," says the King James Committee.

I don't care. I find the construction, as currently used, smugly self satisfied in its correctness (and, yes, I'm probably projecting here), but each person must please themselves.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Even more pregnant and uniquer, too

The lead to this column from the Guardian

suggests that Dickens is "even more ubiquitous" than he used to be. Are there degrees of ubiquity? Can you be "even more omnipresent"? Is it childish to be annoyed by this sort of thing?

I don't want to be ungrateful, though. I learned a new word from the column, aptronym, then, from looking it up, another, the synonymous euonym. I feel more omniscienter than ever.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

from the mailbag

Dear "u stink":

Yes, I get to decide whether your "comment" shows up here or not. I'm sorry you feel offended and excluded, but not all that sorry.

I can summarize your unposted comment for you; maybe that will salve your lacerated sensibilities. You don't like me; you don't like my poems; you suspect I dress funny; I was spawned by Satan; I am personally responsible for Israeli foreign policy and, apparently, Venezuela's, too; and you are convinced I was raised by evil nuns in evening gowns, who tempted me with illicit decolletage while flogging me for not having memorized Lesbia Brandon.

Actually, I made that last part up. You didn't say anything nearly that interesting. And there's an o in "people," not a double e.

P.S. Yes, I see that have only 1 "follower," though "pariah" [note spelling; it rhymes with "Mariah," as in Carey or they call the wind] seems a bit harsh. I'm sure you're correct in saying many bloggers have more--hordes, throngs, multitudes fed with loaves and anapests. All of them should be watching parking meters.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Say it ain't so

Is it true that orange rhymes with Blorenge, a hill in Wales?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

from the mailbag

RHE you know nobody reads this don't you? I read it enough to know that nobody reads it, so I guess I wasn't right when I said nobody reads it. Maybe I should of said something like Almost nobody reads this blog and nobody but you cares about it. Don't you have anything better to do?

Dear Sir or Madam:


Your poems all sound a lot alike to me, same voice every time. Maybe it's time for some variety.

I can't say you're wrong, but the explanation--which is that I wrote them all--suggests how little I can do about it. I have the same reaction when I read through a collected Hardy or Yeats or Frost or Housman. Superior voices, maybe, but they give one the same feeling of surfeit. The answer probably is something like, Lyric poems by the same poet shouldn't be read in bulk. A few poems at a time, from a volume dipped into at random, may be a better way to go.

You are an energizer bunny. Don't you ever get discouraged?

Thank you. Yes.

Are the bagels any good in Denver?

Not as good as they are elsewhere. The locals blame the altitude. I think it's global warming. Or maybe the Illuminati. To be fair, the rellenos can be very good indeed.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Faith-based" discussion

I read another article this morning on the relative merits of societies predicated on religious belief and those which are secular. (It was in the CHE; you can find it at It was learned and dispassionate and even handed. It entirely missed the point. Such articles almost always do, because their unstated premise seems to be that whether we believe or not depends on what we would find most useful. Left undiscussed is truth. If there are no intellectually respectable arguments for the existence of God--and there aren't--what difference does it make whether we'd be better off in an Age of Faith? As Bishop Butler said, "Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be: why then should we desire to be deceived?" Our preferences don't really figure into the matter.

Perhaps we should end with another famous believer. Johnson said, "the mind can only repose on the stability of truth." Of course Johnson seems to have spent much of his life muttering to himself, "I do believe. I do believe. I do, I do, I do."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


1. For the umpty-seventh time, yes, I am the Richard Epstein. Those other Richard Epsteins are each a Richard Epstein. Yes, that professorly chap is more famous, but, dude, the gentleman is an attorney.

2. No, I do not know why a certain class of intellectual dilettante advocates the legalization of marijuana, but the prohibition of tobacco. Probably because I smoke cigars. And why are you asking a poet this question? This sort of conundrum is best addressed by Jerry Seinfeld.

3. As between Derek Walcott and Ruth Padel, I'd choose Francis Turner Palgrave, who has prior experience in the position, wore a long, but rather patchy, beard, is responsible for The Golden Treasury, which promoted the confusion of good poetry with Good Taste, and who edited a volume of selections from Robert Herrick mysteriously entitled Chrysomela.

4. No, I have no idea why the guy who played Kumar and Dr Kutner is in the White House now. What made you think I could explain this? Anyway, isn't Martin Sheen still President? Maybe Kumar/Dr Kutner knows him. Or Charlie Sheen.

5. I prefer the Oxford comma, even though Fowler eschews it, except when its omission would occasion confusion. The truth is, I like punctuation. I hope someday I shall find a grilled cheese sandwich bearing the imprint of a semi-colon. Should/would works just the same as shall/will, except that the distinction is even less observed. Do not get me started on decimate.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Particularly flarfy

Ron Silliman writes of Kevin Davies, "Davies appears to have found a spot exactly halfway between language poetry and flarf, or maybe to have heard what was particularly flarfy about Bruce Andrews’ approach to langpo."

And I stopped reading there. Mr Silliman performs a valuable service to readers in his comprehensive cataloguing of literary links. I am really grateful to him for that. But when he speaks in propria persona, he is almost always wrong. Or wrong headed. Or just silly. Whenever he first quotes, then discusses a poem, he makes me want not to read it. Perhaps that's a public service, too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The World Downriver

The world is somewhat broader than the word
suggests—the tiny globes slotted for banks
or pencil sharpeners, the sort of news
which offers brief and intimate reviews
of life in Akron. Give a world of thanks
for not obtruding Kenya on our notice.
And which of you sophisticates has heard
the prayer that Kundar packaged on a lotus
and floated down the river for his dad,
so lately deceased? The world is somewhat bigger
than what can be ignited by a trigger
in mating season. Even with the bad
strangers excluded, still sit you and I,
a world, we say, grown old, grown dark, gone by.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A rare post about economics

The main thing I've learned from this depression is how dependent our economy is on people buying things they don't really need. The automobile industry is the perfect example. The carmakers are going under, and this is a catastrophe. Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs, billions of dollars will disappear from the economy, and this is all a very bad thing. (Really. No tongue in cheek. Who wants to see their friends, neighbors, and countrymen lose their jobs?) But no one is saying that people are going to have to do without cars. As far as I can tell, almost everyone who wants a car already has a car or two, cars which are perfectly serviceable or which can easily be made so. The car industry is in dire straits because people aren't buying cars to replace cars which don't really need to be replaced. So, we are told, we have to fix this.

On the other hand, the pundits say, our global ecology is in imminent danger of collapse because we are such wasteful, profligate stewards of our planet. We must not flush our toilets every time; we need to recycle the aluminum foil in which we grilled our streaks (which we shouldn't be grilling) (or eating). But we need to buy cars (and stereos and computers and televisions and houses) we don't actually require, because the global economy will disintegrate if we don't. Leaving aside the minor improvements in efficiency made in each automotive model year, what could be more wasteful of resources than buying a car you don't need?

In my heart I believe that nothing could improve this situation but a population 1/3-1/2 as numerous as it is now; but the means of reaching that end are too awful to contemplate.

So all we can do is to buy as many cars as possible made entirely of recycled aluminum foil.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I've Placed Cherubim

This, from These Denver Odes, appeared in Candelabrum.

I've placed cherubim in the garden,
armed of course to repel sin. My guests
see them, sigh, and say, "Oh, angels. Cute."
Maybe this garden isn't Eden,
and I am locked inside, not sin exiled.
The cherubim are defaced by rain,

as I by impure escapades,
most of which were someone else's--
Munchausen's amorous dotage.
I smile at the girl I slept with.
Since she knows nothing about it,
she thinks me harmless and makes change.

At sunset, when the wind gains
and we shrink, we remember.
We do that very well now,
half-cocked and stiff where we stand,
true lies an analgesic
in the angels' sightless eyes.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

And they're all divided into 3 parts

A reader reports that when he types "rhe poems" into his search engine, the first half-dozen websites refer to gallstones and how to be rid of them. "Why?" he asks, but answer came there none.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Civilization and its contents

I've been reading Yeats lately. Despite all the time (and prose) he devoted to his "ideas," it's hard to imagine a great poet with less to say. And this isn't because he relied on inspiration: notwithstanding his loony notions of automatic writing, this is the guy who claimed to write his poems out in prose, then versify them. If that's so, I wonder what prose paragraph this started with--

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood's woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love's bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

Lift your tender eyelids, maid, my Aunt Fanny. I believe the classically Woosterian response to this is, "Pish. Oh, and tosh, too."

And yet. And yet. Was Yeats a great poet? You betcha. I'd sigh with contentment if I could have written those last 4 lines, and I have no idea what they mean. It's a very mysterious thing, Great Poetdom.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dr Johnson & the ungilded pill

The Scottish government proposes to fight alcohol abuse by outlawing discount liquor and imposing a "social responsibility fee" on drink. Their theory, unarticulated, must be that only the affluent should be allowed to get drunk.

As so often is the case, Johnson had the best response. Mrs Thrale tells us,

—"What signifies," says some one,"giving halfpence to common beggars; they only lay it out in gin or tobacco."

"And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence? (says Johnson) it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to show even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths."

Johnson had no great love for Puritans or Scots (though he heightened his remarks about the latter for dramatic effect); one can only imagine his response to this latest proposal, which should be outlined by a minister with a name like Praisegod Barebones.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Two of my favorite popular artists died today, John Mortimer and Andrew Wyeth. Mortimer was the creator of one of those indestructible characters who survive their own begettors and the books they were put in--like Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and Superman. But he was more than that. He was a lawyer who stood for the best thing--law as a bulwark for the protection of civil liberties, a personal rebuttal to the lawyer joke. And one admires Wyeth for the same reasons one admired Frost: he wanted to go his own way and stand against the tide of the prevailing aesthetic and produce what he thought was great art. From my perspective--that of someone whose aesthetic in painting is congruent with Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word--he succeeded.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Hoi polloi

Dear World:

Please stop writing "the hoi polloi." "Hoi" means "the." The "the" is thus redundant.

The Arbiters of Style disagree with me on this. One representatively writes,

Hoi polloi is Greek for “the common people,” but it is often misused to mean “the upper class” (does “hoi” make speakers think of “high” or "hoity-toity"?). Some urge that since “hoi” is the article “the hoi polloi” is redundant; but the general rule is that articles such as "the” and “a” in foreign language phrases cease to function as such in place names, brands, and catch phrases except for some of the most familiar ones in French and Spanish, where everyone recognizes “la"—for instance—as meaning “the.” “The El Nino” is redundant, but “the hoi polloi” is standard English.


They disagree, but they're wrong. And their argument, which seems to be that redundancy is acceptable when people don't recognize it, will fail completely as soon as we properly educate everyone. So stop some folks on the street today, on the elevator, at your local DazBog, and tell them, " `Hoi' means `the,' you know."

Thank you.


P.S. On the other hand, everyone in Santa Fe, natives, tourists, and employees alike, calls the famous hotel there "The La Fonda." Sometimes, piling Pelion upon Ossa, they call it "The La Fonda Hotel."