Monday Poem-Jay Parini

Lament Of The Middle Man

In late October in the park
the autumn’s faults begin to show:
the houses suddenly go stark
beyond a thinning poplar row;
the edges of the leaves go brown
on every chestnut tree in town.

The honking birds go south again
where I have gone in better times;
the hardy ones, perhaps, remain
to nestle in the snowy pines.
I think of one bold, raucous bird
whose wintry song I’ve often heard.

I live among so many things
that flash and fade, that come and go.
One never knows what season brings
relief and which will merely show
how difficult it is to span
a life, given the Fall of Man.

The old ones dawdle on a bench,
and young ones drool into their bibs;
an idle boffer, quite a mensch,
moves fast among the crowd with fibs.
A painted lady hangs upon
his word as if his sword was drawn.

Among so many falling fast
I sometimes wonder why I care;
the first, as ever, shall be last;
the last are always hard to bear.
I never know if I should stay
to see what ails the livelong day.

I never quite know how to ask
why some men wear bright, silver wings
while others, equal to the task,
must play the role of underlings.
“It’s what you know, not who,” they swore.
I should have known what to ignore.

I started early, did my bit
for freedom and the right to pray.
I leaned a little on my wit,
and learned the sort of thing to say,
yet here I am, unsatisfied
and certain all my elders lied.

A middle man in middle way
between the darkness and the dark,
the seasons have tremendous sway:
I change like chestnuts in the park.
Come winter, I’ll be branches, bones;
come spring, a wetness over stones.

Jay Parini

A Larkinesque quality?

Repost-Some Saturday Links-Hilary Putnam & Thomas Leonard With A Mention Of Hayek & Sowell

Now it’s been a few years.

Via Edward Feser:

‘Hilary Putnam, who died a couple of months ago, had some interest in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, even if in part it was a critical interest.’

R.I.P. Post and comments worth a read.

Some of Bryan Magee’s series has been made available on youtube. Putnam on the Philosophy of Science.

Moving along, via a reader, via bloggingheads: Thomas Leonard and Glenn Loury discuss ‘The Power Of The Progressive

Leonard’s book can be found here: ‘Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics In The Progressive Era.’

Glenn Loury via the comments:

‘Hayek’s argument against planning was rooted in his views about how to assimilate the knowledge relevant to economic decisions that, necessarily in a modern society, is dispersed among millions of distinct individuals. What feasible mechanisms of social action would allow this diffused information to be most efficiently brought to bear on decisions about the use of scarce resources? How can the actions of myriad individual producers and consumers be so coordinated as to exploit most effectively the specialized knowledge which each possesses about their respective circumstances?

His answer, of course, was that central planning could not improve upon — and invariably would lead to outcomes much worse than — what can be achieved via the price system operating within competitive markets where institutions of private property and freedom of contract are respected, and where individuals enjoy liberty to puruse their own best interests, as they understand them.

This, I wish to insist, is a profound insight into the functioning of economic systems which — though subject to qualification and exception — is largely a correct conclusion with far-reaching implications for the design of economic institutions and the conduct of public affairs. To my mind, the world’s history since publication of The Road to Serfdom has largely vindicated Hayek’s concerns…’

Interview with Thomas Sowell here.

Sowell speaks about his then new book, ‘Intellectuals And Race’, and speaks against multiculturalism:

‘What multiculturalism does is it paints people into the corner in which they happen to be born. You would think that people on the left would be very sensitive to the notion that one’s whole destiny should be determined by the accident of birth as it is, say, in a caste system. But what the multiculturalism dogma does is create the same problems that the caste system creates. Multiculturalism uses more pious language, but the outcome is much the same.’

Heavily influenced by the Chicago School, here he is arguing that the welfare state maintains some of the same dependence in the black community that slavery required.

Within the embrace of political coalitions promising a better world to come, ever on the horizon, uniting individuals beneath the ‘-Isms,’ against ‘the system’ in perpetuity, the maps don’t always line-up with the terrain.

The moral sentiments are engaged, certainly, and there are truths to tell, but not all the truths, and within groups on the march under a professed political banner, many important truths have already been ignored, trampled or passed on by.

Ideals, abstractions, self, professional and political interests are often no match for one’s own doubt in moments of quiet and honest reflection: The simple pleasures and patient work of the home and family. The lessons great works in the humanities can offer, the years-long deep dives into data and the mathematical patterns one didn’t expect to find in one’s backyard or on Mars; the long, bloody struggles of the past and the wisdom of experience, speaking to you directly after hundreds or thousands of years.

Freedom and thinking for one’s self is often harder, lonelier, more challenging and more rewarding than the modern ideals, moral crusades, and political activists would have you believe.

In pursuit of truth, your work is never done.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden

Yeah, I don’t think this is so much about (S)cience.

Related On This Site:   What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Repost-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

Wednesday Photo And A Poem-Anne Sexton

For Eleanor Boylan Talking With God

God has a brown voice,
as soft and full as beer.
Eleanor, who is more beautiful than my mother,
is standing in her kitchen talking
and I am breathing in my cigarettes like poison.
She stands in her lemon-colored sun dress
motioning to God with her wet hands
glossy from the washing of egg plates.
She tells him! She tells him like a drunk
who doesn’t need to see to talk.
It’s casual but friendly.
God is as close as the ceiling.

Though no one can ever know,
I don’t think he has a face.
He had a face when I was six and a half.
Now he is large, covering up the sky
like a great resting jellyfish.
When I was eight I thought the dead people
stayed up there like blimps.
Now my chair is as hard as a scarecrow
and outside the summer flies sing like a choir.
Eleanor, before he leaves tell him
Oh Eleanor, Eleanor,
tell him before death uses you up.

Anne Sexton

**The confessional and often psychiatric despair of many mid-20th century poets can grow tiresome; solipsistic and gauche much of this subject matter can be.  It can also fuel some pretty good poems.

Here’s a mildly creepy photo I took, which brought the poem to mind:

Tuesday Poem-Theodore Roethke

Autumn Poem

I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.
I am renewed by death, thought of my death,
The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.

Theodore Roethke

Two Seattle Photos & Two Poems-Clive James & Wallace Stevens

Here are some photos I took this past weekend, along with two poems I hope I’ve done justice. As always, thanks for reading and looking.

Japanese Maple

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.

So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone
.

Clive James

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Wallace Stevens

Wednesday Poem-James Merrill

A Renewal

Having used every subterfuge
To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
Now I see no way but a clean break.
I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.

You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.
We sit, watching. When I next speak
Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.

James Merrill

Friday Photo & A Poem By Wallace Stevens

Sailing After Lunch

It is the word pejorative that hurts.
My old boat goes round on a crutch
And doesn’t get under way.
It’s the time of the year
And the time of the day.

Perhaps it’s the lunch that we had
Or the lunch that we should have had.
But I am, in any case,
A most inappropriate man
In a most unpropitious place.

Mon Dieu, hear the poet’s prayer.
The romantic should be here.
The romantic should be there.
It ought to be everywhere.
But the romantic must never remain,

Mon Dieu, and must never again return.
This heavy historical sail
Through the mustiest blue of the lake
In a really vertiginous boat
Is wholly the vapidest fake. . . .

It is least what one ever sees.
It is only the way one feels, to say
Where my spirit is I am,
To say the light wind worries the sail,
To say the water is swift today,

To expunge all people and be a pupil
Of the gorgeous wheel and so to give
That slight transcendence to the dirty sail,
By light, the way one feels, sharp white,
And then rush brightly through the summer air.

Wallace Stevens

Is it just you, out there? Where is your I?

You Can’t Step In The Same River Twice, I Suppose

If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.

Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on.  After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.

While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida.  He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan.  Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling.  There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room.  Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.

I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.

In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried.  When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).

It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.

I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.

It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.

It may be meritocrats all the way down, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.

It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.

Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow.

Downward To Darkness: From A Reader-Wallace Stevens’ ‘Sunday Morning’

A return to Nature?  To origins of faith?  To a simple freedom in a wild land, and new understandings, with death in view? To visions of Romantic Primitivism becoming modern?:

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

Wallace Stevens

Full poem here.

Read it aloud, for God’s sake, as the meaning lies in the experience of saying.

Causes & Rackets: About Those Foundations & Academies-Turning Piles Of Poetry Money Into Jargon

Via Joseph Massey via The Poetry Foundation:

You could kinda see this coming:

‘In the Letter of Commitment, the Foundation staff and the Board pledged action in response to the June Community Letter’s call for us to become proactively antiracist. The Foundation is grateful to these poetry communities for continuing to hold it accountable, as it speaks to a belief in the capacity for change. The Foundation holds itself accountable as well, and has begun to move forward with short- and long-term equity efforts.

Such bad use of language!

Blink if you can hear me.

The money which someone earned in the world, often passed down to those who didn’t earn the money, is further donated to those who haven’t earned the respect of poets. Often, the support a decent poet needs to get better is diverted to the loudest voices in the organization and wasteful, bureauratic, mastubatory ends.

I think the best response is just posting good poetry. Maybe it strikes you, maybe it doesn’t.

Meh:

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden

As posted:

Alas, the Mellon Foundation?

‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’

Via Mellon’s Website bio, regarding Alexander’s work at the Ford Foundation:

There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’

I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal.  They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.

As posted:

Adam Kirsch On Elizabeth Alexander’s Bureaucratic Verse

Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony nor Elizabeth Alexander’s use of poetry to commerorate political power:

‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’

Also, as posted:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’

and:

‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

And still also more on institutional capture and old piles of money, as posted:

Full review here.

Jack Shakely on Ken Stern:

‘Ken Stern knows an awful lot about nonprofits, having spent the better part of a decade as chief operating officer, then president of NPR, one of the best-known, and controversial, nonprofits in America.’

Charity has limits.

This blog likes to keep an eye on NPR, as they’re a child of the 60’s, and but for the work of LBJ’s Great Society lobbying to include ‘radio’ in the Public Television Act of 1967, they might not be around. Many NPR stories, in reaching out to the wider world, often return to the touchstones of feminism, environmentalism and some form of diversity multiculturalism. Amidst high standards for journalism and production values lies the tendency towards positive definitions of equality, justice and peace. They tend to assume their ideals are your ideals as they filter new input from the world.

In turn, many feminists, environmentalists, and multiculturalists/activists rely on foundation money and/or private donations, and/or public institutions, for survival. They aim for broad definitions of the public good, and seek to influence both the culture and political outcomes.

Everyone’s starting a non-profit these days:

‘The ability to survive, even thrive, with programs that have been proven not to work is just one of the many oddities ‘With Charity for All’ documents in the topsy-turvy, misunderstood, and mostly ignored world of nonprofits’

Non-profits have become big business, partially following the ‘greatness model’ that worked so well for the boomers, when the getting was good. Unfortunately, there are limits to any model, and we’ve got serious economic issues and a lot of political dysfunction. The money has to come from somewhere.

Shakely again:

‘To clean up the messy nonprofit landscape, Stern offers some suggestions that are sure to cause concern in some nonprofit quarters, including increased government oversight, increasing the application fee to cover the cost of better IRS review and, most radical of all, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, then requiring a renewal after a certain period of time (maybe 10 years). It’s an admirable goal, but in a sector where the stated goal of private foundations is self-preservation and “once a charity; always a charity,” is the mantra, it ain’t gonna happen. Stern knows this, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from asking this and many other valid questions about a sector that is loath to engage in self-evaluation’

It may be as simple as following the money.

On Stern’s third point, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, Stern might agree with David Horowitz, of all people. He’s a red-diaper baby, an ex-Marxist activist cum anti-Leftist, anti-Communist crusader. Making foundations and constantly agitating is what he knows how to do.

He had a then a new book out entitled: ‘The New Leviathan, How The Left Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics And Threatens America’s Future

Horowitz argues that such foundations as Ford (which donates to NPR) have become vehicles for the interests of political activists, portraying the matter of as a fight between capitalism/anti-capitalism and/or socialism. He mentions the Tides foundation here. They are big money, he points out, and Obama’s political career was largely made possible by activist political organization, and the money and manpower behind them:

——————–

Stern and Horowitz potentially agreeing on some regulation of non-profits makes for strange bedfellows. Obama, true to form, was seeking a permanent form of activism. Activists, and the political idealists with whom they often find common cause, often don’t produce anything of value independently, and must rely upon existing institutions for their support.

It’s worth thinking about who wants to be in charge, and why, and what that means for everyone else. Following the money never hurts, and it’s a necessary evil, just a politics is. If you tend to agree with the ideals, you tend to focus on the sausage, not how it’s getting made.

This blog wants to focus on what keeps our society open, healthy and dynamic, and what maintains our political and economic freedoms. The pie ought to be growing.

It’s 1968 all over again, see Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s…

Related On This Site: A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Jack Shafer At Slate: ‘Nonprofit Journalism Comes At A Cost’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…How Would Obama Respond To Milton Friedman’s Four Ways To Spend Money?

A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling. Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art. The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so… ….here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment… ——–   The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”