Friday, April 27, 2012

The Bard

The Blue Wizard of Oz asks, "Can you recommend, for someone mostly unfamiliar with Shakespeare, a good place to start to appreciate his prose or poetry?"

Good question.  I don't know.  I just found out I won't get a chance to teach my Shakespeare, science fiction or film history classes next fall, so I appreciate the change to ponder Uncle Bill.

Going to see quality productions of Shakespeare seems like a good start.  I love how after I see a Shakespeare production I think in iambic pentameter.  You could also watch some good Shakespeare movies.  (What constitutes a "good Shakespeare movie"?  Well, I love Orson Welles' Macbeth, Chimes at Midnight, and Othello, but I think they all bored me when I first saw them.  I love Olivier's Hamlet, Henry V, and Richard III too.  I remember seeing part of Olivier's Hamlet around second grade, and I liked the ghost and the poison in the ear.  Snobbishly I tried to memorize the "To be or not to be" soliloquy.)  (You haven't really appreciated Hamlet until you've read it in the original Klingon.)  (Just kidding.)  I also like the 30's version of A Midsummer's Night Dream with Jimmy Cagney and Mickey Rooney.  I also love Kurosawa's versions of King Lear (Ran) and Macbeth (Throne of Blood).

For the poetry, I remember reading comedies in a group of friends in college.  We read A Midsummer's Night Dream sitting on the grass, and we read Twelfth Night in my dorm room.  Some folks at the Maybe Logic Academy had talked about starting a Shakespeare study group.  I also like two anthologies of Shakespeare's poetry Ted Hughes edited.  I think you can easily get one called Essential Shakespeare.

I recommend getting a complete Shakespeare and just reading out loud.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ho, Ho, Ho

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "I thought it was charming that "An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson" included a poem written for your wife. Did she like the poem? Will you post one of your more recent poems?"

Yes, she loved the poems in the book.

         A little Christmas poem

We would wait in the hall
for my father to put Christmas records on
(Bing Crosby, etc.)   a stack of them on the record player
And then we'd open presents, one by one
youngest to oldest, which
I'd hand out.

In the joyous aftermath we'd eat
sausage and my mother's coffee cake
occassionally restarting
the music

Maynard G. Krebs

SatoriGuy asks, "As someone who knew RAW, did you ever discuss his writing process? I always find it mind boggling how many seemingly unrelated and esoteric references he could squeeze into his work. I guess what I'm asking is, did he have any special way of doing research or does it just come down to his genius intellect?"

As I recall, we didn't discuss his writing process that much.  Mostly we discussed reading and movies.  I remember he came down to Southern California in August 2000 for an NLP gig in Anaheim.  I came to visit him twice, and we talked about how neither of us had ever really gotten into Henry James, although we both loved Ezra Pound and he loved Henry James.  Pound said if one wanted to learn to write prose well one should read forty Henry James novels.  Bob later suggested to me that if I wanted to improve my prose style I should read Ulysses forty times.

I know Arlen Wilson liked to collect old encyclopedias back in the Roaring 20th Century.  Bob liked to look up facts in multiple encyclopedias and note the discrepancies.

I love this piece.  I used to have it hanging on my wall.  I got this copy from the wonderful


as a writer

by Robert AntonWilson

Most of the characteristics which make for success in writing are precisely those which we are all taught to repress. These characteristics are denounced by religious leaders everywhere, by most philosophers, and by many famous psychologists.

I refer to such qualities as vanity, pride, even conceit; to raw egotism and grandiosity; to the firm belief that you are an important person, that you are a lot smarter than most people, and that your ideas are so damned important that everybody should listen to you.

I have known a lot of successful writers and they all had these qualities. In contrast, the people I knew in high school and college who "wanted to be writers" but have never published anything since then, had all the opposite qualities. They were shy, and meek, and timid; they had the humility that all religions preach; they had a realistic sense that they probably were no brighter or more important than anybody else. They had irony- and balance and pragmatism, and they were not fanatics. That is why they are not writing anymore.

The successful writers I know are not only driven by vanity but are also fanatic personalities.

This is not only true of writers but of great creative persons in all fields. Michelangelo was an ego-maniac who attacked the Pope physically for trying to tell him how to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Beethoven was rude, domineering, stubborn as a mule and never for a moment doubted that he was the greatest musician in all history-and he threw furniture at people who annoyed him. Frank Lloyd Wright, when testifying in court, described himself as the world's greatest architect, and when his friends told him later that he sounded grandiose he replied that he had to tell the truth because he was under oath.

If you believe that the ego is a "delusion," that pride is one of the seven deadly sins, that humanity should be reduced to a herd of contented cows, then you might as well give up writing and all the other arts.

You cannot have too high an opinion of yourself because the world will always strive to correct you. The only thing most people hate more than success is self-confidence-a warning signal that you might be a success soon. This is not what they teach you in Sunday School, but it happens to be true: at any evidence that you might be a success, the envious will do every-thing in their power to destroy you. Therefore, there is no chance at all that a high self-esteem will go unchallenged; it will be challenged on all sides, daily. On the other hand, if you have a low opinion of yourself, nobody will ever correct it. You will have it for life unless you correct it yourself.

The second quality writers need for success, besides vanity, is love of writing itself. Nothing is fun to read that wasn't fun to write (which is a corollary of the basic psychological law that nobody enjoys being with you if you don't enjoy being with yourself. (Reading you is a symbolic form of being with you.] )

Few writers achieve overnight success, because few people in any field succeed immediately. This does not mean that you have to endure years of poverty before success. Poverty is a state of mind, based on inadequate self-esteem. If you believe in yourself, you are never poor; you are just temporarily short of funds. I was on Unemployment for six months once (1964) and on Welfare for two years (1972-1973) and I was never poor. I was waiting for the world to realize how important I am.

Besides egotism and love-of-your-­work, the only remaining thing a creative person needs is something that seems to, but doesn't, contradict self-esteem. This is belief in something greater than yourself. Michel­angelo painted for the greater glory of God and for the greater glory of Michelangelo, in about equal propor­tions. Beethoven's music is an outcry of passionate commitment to God, Life, Humanity and Ludwig van Beethoven, in equal proportions. James Joyce, who may have been the greatest writer of all time, said he never met a boring human being; this was because his faith in James Joyce was equaled only by his absorption in what other people could teach James Joyce about human psychol­ogy. Other great creative minds have been equally absorbed in getting mankind off this planet, or in Socialist Revolution, or in Feminism, or in whatever happened to seize their imagination.

Robert Heinlein has offered the only pragmatic rules for writers that make sense to me. The first is to finish what you start. The second is to keep on sending each piece out until you sell it. If it has been rejected even 1 00 places, make a list of 100 more, and keep on mailing it to one after another, until you do sell it. If you enjoyed writing it, somebody somewhere is going to enjoy reading it and enjoy it enough to publish it. Since I learned this rule I have sold everything I have written, including even my Ph.D. dissertation, which is the hardest kind of thing to sell to a commercial publisher.

But even these two Heinleinian rules of marketing will not avail unless you already qualify for the three psychological characteristics mentioned earlier-belief in yourself, belief in something greater than yourself, and sheer delight in what you are doing.

Rabbi Hillel put it all in a nutshell 2000 years ago: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

-Robert Anton Wilson

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Blue Wizards?

The Blue Wizard of Oz asked, "How would you rate Tolkien's poetry?"
It sucks.  No, wait a minute.  I just said that to get a laugh.  The Pound snob within me says that, but I love a lot of Tolkien's poetry, and I find it integral to The Lord of the Rings which I adore.  I particularly admire his ability to write poems in languages he himself created.

I just finished teaching The Lord of the Rings again last month, and we had a blast.  I got switched to a new classroom last summer, and I grumbled about it, but I did like the fact the I now had room for a bookshelf dedicated to Tolkien.  I have to the right of my desk beneath my large map of Middle Earth which my wife bought me years ago.  My old principal had a classroom set of The Hobbit, so I have 30 plus copies of The Hobbit which I have taught at least three times.  (I look forward to the new film, and I wonder if they will show the White Council attacking Dol Guldur.)

Tolkien seems to have little interest in post-Swinburnean developments in English poetry, but so what?  He had steeped himself in Medaeval poetry in a variety of languages, and that enabled him to build an unparalleled linguistic verisimilitude into his writing.  He wrote that he loathed allegory (perhaps a dig at C. S. Lewis) and that he preferred history, even feigned history.  His linguistic creativity enabled him to create his multi-layered feigned history of peoples with a vital oral poetry tradition.

I also taught his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a few years ago, which I enjoyed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Dr. J asks, "QUESTION: Aldous Huxley once noted - and this was when people had access to music on the AM radio! - That because music was so easy to access now, we take it for granted, and thus we tend to diminish its importance and not attend to it consciously as we did when we had to dress up and travel to the concert hall. What do you think of this idea? Does it relate to poetry reading in any way?"

I think Huxley's notion suggest a linear model with music's importance diminishing or increasing along a single line.  I think instead that the role of music has changed.  I love the story Pound tells of how Jefferson hired staff at Monticello who could play instruments so that he could hear music at dinner.  I think music seems very important to many people today, and the easy access to recordings has helped music transform people's lives in ways unknown to the nineteenth century.  I think of how jazz underpinned the Beat Generation and how music helped to shift innumerable paradigms in the 1960's.

I think poetry reading relates in that poetry gives us access to deeper strata of our human history.  Its oral roots go back to preliterate humanity.  I think of how Pound saw Homer as the end of a tradition, the tradition of thousands of years of oral poetry.  We still have oral poetry, but literacy has transformed our perception of it, much as how recordings have transformed our perceptions of music.

Reading poetry can also give us access to the transition from inflected languages like Greek and Latin to modern languages.  Canto One demonstrates this.  Pound took what he perceived as the oldest part of The Odyssey, Odysseus's trip to the Underworld, translated via a sixteen century Latin text, using the alliteration pattern of Old English.  The periplum voyage of this translation gives a history of English poetry, from its classical Greek and Latin and Anglo-Saxon roots via the Renaissance.  Poetry and music can both give us tours of other people's lives, time-binding as Korzybski said.


The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Can you explain again why you are listening to each sonata 11 times? I know you explained that before, but I can't find the answer."

I find it fascinating how much access we have to music in 2012 C.E.  For most of human existence, to hear music one had to hear live people (or birds, dolphins, waterfalls, etc.).  During my lifetime I've mostly heard recorded music.  Now, I love recorded music, but I think in a McLuhanesque sense our whole relationship with music has changed over the past 150 years.  (I love Paul Schrader's essay on the film canon which deals tangentially with this issue - .)  I remember reading an article about a guy who said his father had a life goal of hearing all nine Beethoven symphonies.  The father traveled all over Germany to accomplish this goal.  Now with recordings one can easily listen to all nine in one afternoon.

I have mostly used music as background for the past thirty or so years.  I have it on while driving, reading, working, etc.  I have tried over the past few years to spend more time just listening to music.  In Finnegans Wake the number 1132 shows up over and over.  The fact that the Big B had written 32 piano sonatas nagged at me for years, and I decided to listen to each sonata eleven times.  I find it hard to find time sometimes, but over the past two years I've made it through the first 23 sonatas.  I find it a wonderful legal means of consciousness alteration much like reading great poetry out loud.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beethoven, etc.

The Seer of Cleveland asked, "Is there anything you can recall that you learned about Beethoven from RAW that RAW didn't mention in any of his writings? How is your project to listen to all of Beethoven's piano sonatas over and over again coming along?"

I just started this blog yesterday, but I've discovered already that the answering process seems to take time.  I may think I've answered a question adequately, but I keep thinking of other ways to answer it.  I suspect Bob/Beethoven anecdotes will percolate up in my memory over the next few months, especially if I get to teach a Schroedinger's Cat class over at the Maybe Logic Academy starting in August.  (And reading Proust keeps adjusting my concept of memory altogether.)

When Bob came over to my house for our Finnegans Wake study group on a Thursday in March 1988, I put a number of Cd's on, mostly Beethoven.  I think he asked for the Fifth Piano Concerto (which I have playing right now) and the Triple Concerto.  I don't think I owned a recording of the Triple Concerto at the time, but in slavish fanboy fashion I bought one soon thereafter.  For a change of pace he asked for some Bach, so I put on Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations.  He may have asked specifically for that piece.  I don't recall.

A few days earlier Mark Johnston had interviewed him for Mark's zine The Mind Blaster (heavily praised by Ivan Stang) over at Steve and Vicky Snow's house.  Steve had Beethoven's Eighth Symphony playing and the Marilyn Chamber's film Insatiable playing with the sound off.  Bob had brought an Endomax brain machine which I think I tried first, and we had all stocked up on Guinness Stout, etc., for Bob's week-long visit.  I found that a most amusing evening.  At one point Bob interrupted an answer to glance at the screen and comment on the pool table scene.

Bob  told me that he once gave a talk and to introduce him someone played the "Ode to Joy" on a trombone.

He also said he once took LSD and listened to all nine Beethoven symphonies, taking a bit more before each symphony, climaxing with the Ninth at sunrise.

I once commented about liking a brief mention of Mahler in one of his books, and he replied he loved Mahler.  Reading books like Prometheus Rising and Schroedinger's Cat one gets the impression that he listened mostly to Beethoven, but he did listen to a variety of classical music.  However, the recent Boing Boing interview with his daughter brought up his obsession with Beethoven once again.

In the late 80's I became obsessed with basketball.  I had a pianist friend call up Bob during a radio interview and ask him whether the fact that the NBA had 23 teams at the time could help him in playing the "Appassionata" (Sonata #23). 

I have reached Op. 78 in my 11:32 project to listen to all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas eleven times each.  I've modeled the sonatas as parallel with the eight circuits of the nervous system, so I've almost finished the Sixth Morphogenetic Circuit, and I look forward to metaprogramming Beethoven shortly.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dr. J

I love Michael Johnson's Overweening Generalist blog. He asked:

"When you first encounter a new poet and you read him/her, do you consciously look for rhythm or other melopoeic aspects, structure, vocabulary, imagery, or the poet's semantic environment? (The easy answer is "Yes.")

Or do you just read them, and let whatever impressions your get wash over you before you "think" too much about what's going on?"

I do not consciously look for rhythm or their melopoeic aspects, etc. I usually read out loud and hope. I do not tend to read many new poets, and it takes me a while to appreciate a new poet. I think of Bob Wilson's article on Ginsberg in Coincidance where he talks about the challenges in finding Ginsberg's "Great Bass".

I think of works of art as wells. In some wells I have found water. In others people I respect say they have found water. In others I just don't know. I have found solace in the poetry of Zukofsky, Pound, Shakespeare, etc. I keep looking for it in Spenser. Kenneth Koch and Frances Yates suggest solace there.

In reading a new poet out loud, I delight in the sound, if I can. I mostly read poetry for a fifth/third circuit boost. In your words, I "just read them, and let whatever impressions...wash over [me]." If I like it, I read more. I tend to become gluttonous with poetry I love.

Uncle Ezra

Dr. Jackson asks, "2) Ezra Pound obviously wrote quite a few books over his lifetime. What should people read to get started on his work?"

I don't know.  I had a student read ABC of Reading in tenth grade, and it worked for him.  He also read The Cantos in our tenth grade honors class.  During senior year he borrowed ABC of Reading again to help him prepare for the AP exam.  I don't know if it helped him.  I think of the story I heard Carroll Terrell tell in 1985.  He recommended an undergraduate student read Pound's criticism.  The student did, and his grades in his English classes went down because the student shared Ezra's cantankerous opinions.

(I sometimes think of Ezra as the Yosemite Sam of poetry.  "Ya varmits, I want ya to read Ovid and Dante."  I think of T. S. Eliot of the Elmer Fudd.  "Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm saving Western Civilization.  Heh, heh, heh."  I yearn to become the Bugs Bunny of poetry, but I remain more of a Daffy Duck, a Scarlet Pumpernickel.)

I love Ezra's essay "How to Read" in Literary Essays.  That seems to me a good place to start.  I also recommend just buying a copy of The Cantos and reading it out loud and seeing what happens.  I fell in love with Ezra's prose before I could really uncrack the poetry.  I bought ABC of Reading after reading a bunch of Bob Wilson in late 1982 or early 1983.  I liked it, but I got stopped cold by the Chaucer quotes in Middle English.  In summer 1983 I read Pound's Guide to Kultur, and that WORKED for me.  In December I decided to "become a poet" and in a few months I changed my major from math to English.

(I fear this blog will seem narcissistic.)

The short Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (the old one, selected by Ez himself) has a lot of terrific poems.  I also learned to appreciate Pound by reading about him, especially writings by other poets like Eliot, Williams, cummings, Creeley, Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Bob Wilson, etc.

A Jackson in Your House

I love Tom Jackson's blog  He suggested I start this blog, for which I thank him.  He sent me this question:  "What do you read to keep yourself current on what's going on in poetry? Is there something people can do that doesn't involve a huge amount of time?"

Alas, I don't keep myself current on what's going on in poetry.  I don't follow any living poets.  (I sorta follow Barry Smolin, Ishmael Reed, Stew, etc.)  I took a Contemporary Poetry class in 1984 which introduced me to a bunch of poets from the 50's and 60's like John Ashberry and Frank O'Hara and Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg.  Reading Robert Creeley led me to a bunch of other post World War II poets, but I don't keep current.  I did intern with Pete Fairchild in graduate school, which I really enjoyed.


I hope all goes well.  "I have nothing to say and I am saying it." - John Cage.  Please let me know if you have any questions about poetry, etc.