By Evan Mantyk

One week in mid-January this year, in the relatively obscure world of poetry, Joseph Charles MacKenzie’s “Pibroch for the Domnhall” exploded like an atomic bomb, shattering perceptions that rhyming and rhythmic poetry—poetry that common people appreciate or at least understand for a change—was dead upon the stage of history. By getting published first by the Society of Classical Poets and then fully republished in major U.K. newspapers, the Scotsman and the Independent, and referenced in the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Yahoo News, the Week, and many other publications, his poem scrambled the molecular makeup of the poetry field so much that it seemed that classical poetry was once again the dominant form.

Question: The U.S. government’s “Survey of Public Participation in the Arts” indicates that participation in poetry in America is in severe decline. Is the dominate style of poetry, free verse or modern, dead?

MacKenzie: For the past sixty years, modernist so-called “poetry” has been kept alive through an artificial life support system called “government-funded academia.” This includes the financial feeding tube of the NEA for upper middle class “activists” to shake their self-sanctifying fists at “poetry slams” attended only by other activists. These shallow victimologists go on to worship themselves as university hirelings filling academic journals with chopped-up prose no one ever reads, not even their enlightened selves. The necessity of a state-run artificial life support system arises from public rejection of modernism’s puffy, self-mythologizing pomp. Was it not for the slow, intravenous drip of establishment grant funding, today’s repurposed Beatnik-speak with its 1970s content would have been interred decades ago, instead of ending its life as an institutionalized vegetable. In short, academic modernism never produced anything educated readers would call “poetry.” So, it is not a question of poetry’s decline, but of its very non-existence, the result of bureaucratic control of the arts through the government’s university system.

Question: Why is traditional or classical poetry important today?

MacKenzie: Because it is ordained to Highest Truth by its very nature and is now the only remedy to the crippling disease of modernism. Classic poetry is only possible through the poet’s apprenticeship to the past without which present life sinks into decadence. Historia magistra vitae, say the Latins, after Cicero. Traditional lyric verse is a mirror of history, a light of truth, the enemy of relativism, subjectivism, and agnosticism. It is aesthetically beautiful, a foil to modernism’s convulsive turpitude.

Question: Some have called your “Pibroch for the Domnhall,” which was billed by the Society as “Inaugural Poem for Donald J. Trump,” a “hoax” or “fake news.” Was it?

MacKenzie: The major outlets treated the poem as a literary work worthy of public attention, simpliciter, that is, as an Inaugural Poem for Donald J. Trump, just as the Society of Classical Poets had published it. Only a handful of alt-left bloggers, clearly recognizing the poem’s—as you say—“atomic” power, declared it a hoax in their desperation to suppress it. To their demise, US News and World Report published a beautiful piece on the poem which also served to clarify its unofficial status. Even the New York Times author who mentioned and quoted the poem in his piece on Fiona Apple simply treated the poem as a poem and nothing more.

Question: Some have wondered whether the poem was serious or not? Was it meant to be a satire?

MacKenzie: Keep in mind that my formal training is in literary history, a discipline I have pursued in five languages, two classical and three modern. So whenever I hear the word “satire,” my thoughts turn immediately to Boileau, as much the Ars Poétique as the Satires. Like Boileau, I, too, have enjoyed the satires of Juvenal and Horace in Latin. The world would not be talking about my “Pibroch of the Domhnall” at this moment was it not for the lofty technical standards of precision and elegance to which I have always held myself as a poet. For me, there is nothing more serious or morally elevating than the satire. Take the meters of the Pibroch. One ignorant commentator accused me of borrowing my anapests from Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Evidently, he had never heard of Byron’s “Destruction of Sennacherib” or Scott’s “Farewell to MacKenzie.” Radical academic leftists have no room for literary history in their intellectually circumscribed world. Their cultural parochialism centers on activist post-colonials exclusively. But on a simple, pedestrian level, my satiric intentions could not be more obvious to anyone with a third-grade reading level or higher: The “Pibroch of the Domhnall” clearly praises Donald Trump for his outstanding victory, clearly rebukes the President’s enemies, and clearly exhorts the Forgotten Men to action. It is a Pibroch in a very classic, bardic style. The ultimate proof of its seriousness is to be found in its final sestet.

Question: How then, does the Pibroch fit into the history of inaugural poetry?

MacKenzie: Technically speaking, the “Pibroch for the Domnhall” is the third inaugural poem in American history. The first was “An Ode in Honor of the Inauguration of Buchanan & Breckinridge, President and Vice President of the United States. March 4, 1857” by Col W. Emmons. This is a veritable inaugural poem containing memorable verses, a very fine poem indeed. The second was “An Inaugural Poem, Dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, and Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee.” It was actually printed on a wagon that was part of Lincoln’s inauguration procession, March 4, 1865. Again, a veritable poem, although deficient in the management of its metaphors. The third inaugural poem, of course, is the Pibroch of the Domnhall.

Question: But what about the twentieth century?

MacKenzie: Let’s not kid ourselves about Frost’s “The Gift Outright.” Frost himself was dissatisfied with it, to the extent of adding the disastrous “Dedication” as a preamble. At the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, Frost feigned a visual problem at the podium and scrapped the “Dedication.” Nixon’s top hat should have solved the fake problem, but the real problem was “The Gift Outright” itself, which is not a poem at all. It is a tedious series of rambling couplets that never establish enough unity among themselves to constitute a poem. The entire affair lacks force and elevation. Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” is infinitely worse. It is a heap of chopped-up prose noodles topped with a tin-can sauce of shop-worn, Whitmanesque metaphors. Formless, aimless, and incoherent, “On the Pulse of Morning” even gives chopped-up prose a bad name. The anti-intellectual Obama never had a poem read at his inaugurations. Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day,” is simple prose arranged on the page in “stanzas.” There is a difference, however, between type setting and poetry. Alexander emulates Angelou, but a poor imitation of an already poor production is a recipe for porridge, not poetry. Richard Blanco’s “One Today,” written for the most racially divisive “president” who ever lived, completes the inaugural triad of mush, placing an exclamation point on the proposition that leftist, academic elites are essentially analphabet. But, of course, Angelou, Alexander, and Blanco were selected by leftist bureaucrats not for having anything to do with poetry, but for their racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation profiles. Therefore, there have only been three inaugural poems in American history to date. The lesson of “Pibroch of the Domhnall” is that true inaugural poems are a spontaneous expression of the people’s mood at a critical time, as opposed to a dry, academic exercise glorifying an ignorant civil servant.

Question: Some have questioned your credentials. Can you elaborate on your education and history?

MacKenzie: What the ignorant usually mean by “credentials,” of course, is proof of servile loyalty to the Democratic Party in the form of an academic certificate. While I obtained a B.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, an M.A. in French Studies from the University of New Mexico with a minor in Italian, and an M.L.S. from Texas Woman’s University, no gentlemen of quality or refinement would put such titles forward as the “credentials” of a lyric poet. On the contrary, true poets are raised up by God to amplify His divine Word in the social body. Poets are only poets by vocation, not by a personal whim. Like Petrarch, my vocation has been recognized and ratified by the authority of Catholic clergy, including some of the finest, most brilliant minds of the Church. It was under obedience that I composed the Sonnets for Christ the King. Petrarch himself frequently sought and received the Church’s approbation, to speak of, for example, Cardinal Colonna encouraging him to accept the Roman Senate’s laurel crown. Pseudo-intellectual hirelings in a fake university never made a poet. Credentials don’t write poetry, poets do. If it were otherwise, then the subject of this interview would be the latest Library of Congress “poet laureate” with a twenty-page community organizer’s resume peppered with Pulitzer Prizes and Guggenheim grants resulting in complete obscurity because he, she, or it was better at constructing resumes than composing verse. But the left attacked me on my credentials without knowing me at all or bothering to ask. I had been Poet in Resident at the Club des Poètes in Paris and was briefly a member of its famous troupe of diseurs, the Troupe du Club des Poètes. I had the privilege of working with Jean-Pierre Rosnay, the last true poet France ever produced, his lovely wife Marcelle, and his brilliant son Blaise—the First Family, as it were, of la poésie dite, the French tradition of reciting poetry by memory. In homage to the Rosnay family, I released the “Pibroch of the Domnhall” on YouTube in the voice of a fine Scottish actor, as I believe very strongly in la poésie dite. For the same reason, I have just released the Sonnets for Christ the King in downloadable audio at MacKenziePoet.com, using the best English voice available. A great stage director and radio personality, Vicky Messica, hired me as his literary consultant for his stage production of Rimbaud et Verlaine, at his own Théâtre des Déchargeurs off the Rue de Rivoli. This was a fantastic experience for the young poet I was back in the 90s. It culminated in Monsieur Messica formally presenting me at the Société des Gens des Lettres to enjoy one of their magnificent séances. The Société was founded by Balzac, Hugo, Dumas, and Georges Sand. Charles Baudelaire had been a member. Finally, I have had a formal theological formation as a traditional cleric in Minor Orders (Porter, Lector, Acolyte, Exorcist) while studying for the priesthood in France, Switzerland, Italy, and the United States. I left the clerical state and subsequently married. Traditional Catholic marriage is an absolute requirement for poets of amatory verse. Shakespeare proves this.

Question: Your bio indicates that you are “the first and last American to win First Place in the Long Poem Section of the Scottish International Poetry Competition.” Some questioned the existence of such a prize, but the Times Literary Supplement (January 27, 2017) fully confirmed its existence and your pristine character. Do you care to elaborate on this?

MacKenzie: Competitions come and go, prizes cease to be funded and disappear. So, the Times Literary Supplement of London did well to remind the world of my taking First Place at the Scottish International Poetry Competition. The Competition, then Britain’s longest running, was the work of a wonderful Scotsman named Henry Mair with the generosity of Ayrshire’s vibrant literary circles at the time. The old, distinguished Burns Club posted large mountings of some of my poems on the walls of the ancient house and I was allowed to touch a copy of the first edition of the Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Not only did I show for my prize, but I replaced the traditional recitation of my own poems with a set of Norman MacCaig’s sonnets from the Sanai Sort and Hugh MacDiarmid’s “A Golden Wine in the Gaeltacht.” I would later recite Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” in Mr. MacCaig’s beautiful Edinburgh study, because he expressed his desire to hear our national poet in the voice of an American. Those were marvelous days! Among knowing men of letters both here and abroad, the great Competition was regarded as the finest in the world for the vibrant milieu it created. Maya Angelou managed to track me down at my university department by phone to congratulate me. I seldom mention this incident, or the subsequent interview by a Clinton White House official—doubtless by the pseudo-poet’s intervention—who listed me as a person of cultural interest with the note: “Able to recite from memory in public.”

Question: What poets have inspired you the most?

MacKenzie: St. Caedmon, in primis, the Northumbrian monk of Whitby Abbey whose famous Hymn I first came across in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. If my Sonnets for Christ the King owe their spiritual substance to anyone, it is Caedmon. His inspiration, like mine, is from above. Caedmon shows us that the first quality of a lyric poet is humility. William Dunbar has always been for me the poet’s poet, very self-conscious of his language, a flower of Catholic lyric verse, and capable of satire. For contemporary lyric poetry in the grand manner, there is nothing to surpass Samuel Gilliland, who happens to be my personal mentor—Scotland’s Federico Garcia Lorca, as it were, but also a true Lallans bard whose tireless defense of the Scots language was rewarded with the MacDiarmid Tassie, the highest honor a poet can receive. After my stage production of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s National First Folio Travelling Exhibit last year, I learned that the Jesuit priest, martyr, and poet, St. Robert Southwell, rightly admonished his cousin Shakespeare to consider poetry’s higher purpose, the elevation of the human soul to God. As a traditional cleric in Minor Orders, my seminary formation had much in common with St. Southwell’s. We are kindred spirits. He read the Gospels in the Greek, as I do now.

Question: Whose sonnets inspire you most?

MacKenzie: As for the sonnet, Pierre de Ronsard, the Prince of Poets, even more than Du Bellay, continues to inspire by the perfection of his verses. His “Remonstrance au Peuple de la France” could not be more relevant to Muslim-occupied France today. Sonnet 33 from Sonnets for Christ the King, entitled “Saint Denis, Priez Pour Nous!” (first published by the Society of Classical Poets), concerns the Paris terrorist attacks of last November and is simply a fourteen-line “remonstrance” to the French people. Indeed, I was privileged to study Ronsard with Roger Guichemerre, of the University of Paris (Sorbonne), one of the foremost scholars of the poetry of the Grand Siècle. This was at the grand École Francophone du Nouveau Mexique, a summer institute directed by Claude-Marie Senninger, also of the University of Paris. She is an important dix-neuvièmiste who introduced me to the works of Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire. To Gautier I owe Sonnet 57 from the Sonnets for Christ the King, entitled “On a Bodegón of Zurbarán.” Among the English, Coventry Patmore has imposed his exigent standards on the quality of my prosody. In the shorter forms, I owe much to Blessed Joseph Mary Plunkett, the Irish martyr of the Easter Uprising. There is only one American, and that is Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose sonnets, be they Petrarchan or English, are technically the most perfect in our dialect. Many are the Italians, including Giacomo da Lentini, the sonnet’s inventor. Michelangelo’s sonnets, some of which I have recited in Italian, remain the most influential of all, as they reflect the highest aspirations of the artistic soul. No poet has any right to compose a sonnet in English who has not first recited one in Italian. And whether one has or not will show immediately on the face of any English attempt. Do you know that I placed a rose on Dante’s tomb in Ravenna? It was following my journey, by foot, from my priory outside of Rome all the way to Rimini. The best credentials have nothing to do with academic certificates.

Question: What changes do you see coming to poetry in the future?

MacKenzie:  Those changes, since the foundation of Evan Mantyk’s Society of Classical Poets in 2012, are already underway. As a member of the Society, my “Pibroch of the Domhnall” and the Sonnets for Christ the King portend these changes by illustration. In my personal opinion these future changes will be: the rise of poets of vocation, as opposed to civil servant activists of state disguised as poets; the release of poetry from the shackles of government-funded academia; the immanent disappearance of modernism with its trite conventions and restrictive dogmata; and, finally, the restoration of poetry as a public institution elevating the human soul to God, the heart to goodness, and the mind to Truth.

 

Joseph Charles MacKenzie Poems Published by the Society

‘Citizens’ (For Donald J. Trump) by Joseph Charles MacKenzie

‘For Elizabeth’ and Other Poetry by Joseph Charles MacKenzie

Inaugural Poem for Donald J. Trump

‘Dunblane Cathedral’: On the 20th Anniversary of a Massacre

“Sonnet 32” by Joseph Charles MacKenzie

 

 

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13 Responses

  1. E. V. "Beth" Wyler

    Thank you, Evan Mantyk, for doing this fantastic interview. Thank you, Joseph Charles MacKenzie, for expressing these important truths. Please put this one on Facebook!

    Reply
  2. Alberdi Ucwese

    Per Joseph Charles MacKenzie
    by Alberdi Ucwese

    He dwells amongst the chatter of repurposed beatnik speak,
    Mackenzie, student of Italian, Latin, French and Greek,
    and wrote a sonnet sequence in humility for Christ,
    New Mexico’s own troubadour, of Scotch and Spanish lines.
    Inspired by the likes of Caedmon, Dunbar, and Ronsard,
    his prosody touched by the mind of Coventry Patmore,
    he worked with Jean-Pierre Rosnay, part of La Rèsistance,
    whose verse, contagious and inevitable, jarred la France.
    But long ago, from outside Rome, he walked to Rimini,
    thence placed a rose on Dante’s tomb, Ravenna, Italy.

    Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Mr. MacKenzie, thank you! You’ve said so many solid home truths in this interview that the Po-Boz Establishment must be reeling in shock.

    You’re absolutely on the mark concerning academia and the gutless nonentities who largely populate it. The vast majority of them, even in literature and humanities departments, wouldn’t know real poetry if it bit them in the derriere.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Thank you, fellow Joseph! Indeed, this puts a definitive end to the controversy. Something tells me the pseudo-intellects of the vanquished left will have to cower in silence on this one.

      The actual fake news, all along, has been that modernist so-called “poetry” was ever poetry at all. It’s interesting that the leftist establishment chose Inaugural Hill to die on.

      To celebrate the death of modernism, may I please recommend the Stations of the Cross Sonnets album—the last fourteen poems from Sonnets for Christ the King, performed by British actor Ian Russell, which you may download here (excellent Lenten listening):

      https://mackenziepoet.com/product/the-stations-of-cross-sonnets-album-set-of-14-audio-sonnets/

      Reply
    • James Sale

      Very emphatic Joseph, but I do agree with you; it’s like dealing with people who seem hypnotised to not understand what poetry is, much less be able to respond emotionally to it.

      Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      My only hope is that I can make myself worthy, kind Sir, of your lofty and most welcome standards so perfectly expressed in the Core Principles Statement of TRINACRIA Poetry Journal which readers may fine here:

      http://trinacriapoetry.com/about.html

      My humble apologies for so late a response (I was interrupted and had to wait for the release of my Sonnets for Christ the King—quite the affair to publish in audiobook format using a British actor). I am greatly honored to have drawn the attention of one of our nation’s most important men of letters. Many thanks.

      Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      My only hope is that I can make myself worthy, kind Sir, of your lofty and most welcome standards so perfectly expressed in the Core Principles Statement of TRINACRIA Poetry Journal which readers may fine here:

      http://trinacriapoetry.com/about.html

      My humble apologies for so late a response (I was interrupted and had to wait for the release of my Sonnets for Christ the King—quite the affair to publish in audiobook format using a British actor). I am greatly honored to have drawn the attention of one of our nation’s most important men of letters. Many thanks.

      Reply
  4. James Sale

    I totally agree with so much of this; it is a wonderful interview, and we have in JC MacKenzie a great champion against the insidious evils of Modernism. But I do thing that one can go too far, become too ‘purist’: the comment “No poet has any right to compose a sonnet in English who has not first recited one in Italian” is palpably wrong – it would disqualify, for a start off, the Sonnets of Shakespeare! It is also a form of academicism which in the better part of this interview JC is resisting; we are selected by the Muse, not by our ability to read 6 languages, to write poetry.

    Reply

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