“Let us now praise freedom’s twilight…”

—Osip Mandelstam

by Esca Webuilder

We live without the feeling of the country under us.
We cannot hear ourselves; nobody listens to our pulse.
But when there is a chance for words, the talk turns to High Tech.
Immense G-Mafia is mentioned merely for a sec.
Its thick long tentacles extend, like thick gigantic sucks;
commands drop from its giant lips like lead weights fall through muck.
Its cockroach-wire whiskers leer into our very lives;
Its gleaming boot-tops shine above the busy, buzzing hives.
Around it gather thin-necked men and empty-headed hens,
who follow it obediently, speaking tongues in tens.
Some wine, some mewl, some whistle too, some play upon their fears,
until they hear it poking, banging, booming in their ears.
Its edicts fly, like horseshoes galloping across the land;
some get them in the gut, the head, the eyes, or in the hand.
Its proclamations roll along, raspberry and rosette;
it’s filled with Moloch’s Arms and Chest, a steely-willed Ossete.




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14 Responses

  1. Monty

    I feel the need to have a little whine about your use of the word ‘wine’.

  2. Joe Tessitore

    This is a brilliantly dark poem that grabbed me from its’ first, ominous line and didn’t let go – so very well done!

    One small question: in line 11 (I think) did you mean “wine” as opposed to “whine”?

  3. Beau Lecsi Werd

    It seems the punster in Mr. Wise will not quit, even in the most serious of places, “a little more than kin and less than kind”. Here Mr. Wise is indulging in that epidemic of computerese, turning nouns into verbs, which seemed to be appropriate to him, as his topic is about the invasion of the Internet and our lives by high-tech corporations. Perhaps he believed it “worked” because it implies that some people “wine”, and all the assorted things that suggests, including drinking alcoholic’lly, religiously, and pleasurably, as counters to G-Mafia, and not least, of course, as Mr. Phillips and Mr. Tessitore have pointed out, by “whining”.

  4. Bruce Dale Wise

    In reference to Mr. Paul’s comment: That is probably the nicest thing anyone has said about the texture of my verse; and I thank him for it.

    To explain as succinctly and convincingly as I can as to why I say so, without bringing my own personality into it, let me borrow three consecutive prose paragraphs of one of my favourite essays of T. S. Eliot, id est, “Poetry in the Eighteenth Century” of 1930:

    “Certain qualities are to be expected of any type of good verse at any time; we may say the qualities which good verse shares with good prose. Hardly any good poet in English has written bad prose; and some English poets have been among the greatest of English prose writers. The finest prose writer of Shakespeare’s time was, I think, Shakespeare himself; Milton and Dryden were among the greatest prose writers of their times. Wordsworth and Coleridge may be cited, and Keats; and Shelley—not I think in his correspondence, but certainly in his “Defense of Poetry”. This is not a sign of versatility but of unity. For there are qualities essential to good prose which are essential to good verse as well; and we may say positively with Mr. Ezra Pound, that verse must be at least as well written as prose. We may even say that the originality of some poets has consisted in their finding a way of saying in verse what no one else has been able to say except in prose written or spoken. Such is the originality of Donne, who, though employing an elaborate metric and an uncommon vocabulary, yet manages to maintain a tone of direct informal address. The talent of Dryden is exactly the same; the difference is only that the speech which he uses is that of a more formal age. Donne makes poetry out of a learned but colloquial dialogue speech, Dryden out of the prose of political oratory; and Pope out of the most polished drawing-room manner. And of Goldsmith and Johnson we can say the same; their verse is poetry because it has the virtues of good prose.

    “Those who condemn or ignore en bloc the poetry of the eighteenth century on the ground that it is ‘prosaic’ are stumbling over an uncertainty of meaning of the word ‘prosaic’ to arrive at exactly the wrong conclusion. One does not need to examine a great deal of the inferior verse of the eighteenth century to realize that the trouble with it is that it is not prosaic enough. We are inclined to use ‘prosaic’ as meaning not only ‘like prose’, but as ‘lacking poetic beauty’— and the Oxford and every other dictionary give us warrant for such use. Only, we ought to distinguish between poetry which is like good prose, and poetry which is like bad prose. And even so, I believe more prose is bad because it is like bad poetry, than poetry is bad because it is like bad prose. And to have the virtues of good prose is the first and minimum requirement of good poetry.

    “If you look at the bad verse of any age, you will find most of it lacking in the virtues of prose. When there is a period of good verse, it has often been preceded by a period in which the verse was bad because it was too poetic, too artificial; and it is very commonly followed by another such period. The development of blank verse in the hands of Shakespeare and some of his contemporaries was the work of adapting a medium which to begin with was almost intractably poetic, so that it could carry the burdens and exhibit the subtleties of prose; and they accomplished this before prose was highly developed. The work of Donne, in a lesser form, was the same. It has prose virtues, and the heavy toil of his minor imitators was wholly to degrade the idiom of Donne into a lifeless verse convention. Speech meanwhile was changing, and Dryden appeared to cleanse the language of verse and once more bring it back to the prose order. For this reason he is a great poet.”

    • C.B. Anderson

      Or, to simplifiy things a bit, let me paraphrase Lewis Turco, who insists that free verse is nothing more or less than prose poetry. He cites Whitman and the King James Bible as prime examples, and says that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH PROSE POETRY. Whether or not your poem is an example of good prose poetry is a matter of individual opinion. But since your lines (as far as I can tell) are carefully measured (fourteen syllables each), I must conclude that this is true verse, not prose poetry.

  5. Lew Icarus Bede

    Though I am unfamiliar with Mr. Turco’s claim that “free verse is nothing more or less than prose poetry”; if he did make such a claim I would disagree with it—profoundly. Nor would I equate the style of the “Leaves of Grass” with the many styles of “The Book”. Though I am glad Mr. Anderson brought up Whitman; because he was one of those writers who were attempting in his own idiosyncratic way, like Williams and Pound, to bring the language “back to…[some kind of]…prose order”.

    When I think of prose poems, however, (which is very rare indeed), I think of those works by poets, like Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Valéry that dispensed with line and parallelism, keeping them from being free verse. So, Mr. Anderson is correct to say that Mr. Wise’s verses are “not prose poetry”, only that they are striving after a prosaic feel to them.

    As the verses here are drawing predominantly from the Russian poet Osip Mendelstam (1891-1938), I am reminded of a prose poem (which could just as well be called a sketch) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)—”The Bonfire and the Ants”.

    “I tossed a rotten log onto the fire, not noticing it was alive with ants.

    The log started crackling, the ants came rushing out and scurried about frantically. They ran along the top and writhed and withered as they succumbed to the flames. I grabbed the log and rolled it aside. Many of the ants were able to escape onto the sand and pine needles.

    But strangely, they did not run away from the fire.

    As soon as they overcame their immediate reaction, they turned back, circled the log, and some force drew them back to their forsaken home. There were many who climbed back onto the burning log, ran about on it, and died there.”

    This is one of my favourite prose poems, not least because I vividly remember a similar experience, but also because of what writers, like Osip Mandelstam, went through, when the horrors of socialism came to their land, and which writers, like the late Mr. Yankevich, passionately wrote about.

  6. Paul

    Well, I’ve been rereading the poem, and although its lines are prosy, they’re richer and more interesting than “ordinary” prose. But they do have a prose feel to them.

    I view the writing of poems as an exploration – using the vehicle of language – to look for new lands. I have no qualms with prose, and use it myself (like now) – when I have something to convey. But when I’m exploring, or looking at others’ explorations, I’m looking for something other than the everydayness and functionality of prose. Some prose, I agree, is beautiful. But when the language has a goal, a job to do (conveying some notion) – how can it also be expected to go roaming around the universe searching for those new lands?

    I agree that sometimes prose in poems works.

    The lines of “G-Mafia” are very cleverly crafted, and the metrics and rhymes and off-rhymes are well done – even masterfully. But it sounds and feels like it was crafted to convey a message – and I can feel that, and it doesn’t sit right with me.

    I’m with Emily Dickinson in this: “I dwell in Possibility – a fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior for Doors –”

  7. Lew Icarus Bede

    Though the inexperienced critic might not catch where Dickinson appears in Wise’s poetry, even offhandedly, as in the first two lines of “G-Mafia”, and most particularly the off-rhyme, still it is important to remember that Dickinson is only one of myriads of writers with remarkable views. He undoubtedly could no more be satisfied with only Dickinsonian techniques, than he could with only Homeric, Pindaric, Vergilian, Horatian, or Shakespearean techniques, to name just a handful; or even more seriously, than he could be satisfied with only Platonic, Aristotelian, Euclidean, Archimedian, or Newtonian techniques, to again name just another handful. Anyway…

    I, Too, View Verse
    by Lew Icarus Bede

    I, too, view verse as exploration—new lands, nuance, news,
    when I have something to convey, surveying vistas, views.
    I seek the heretofore unseen, the missed in misty swells,
    but want the everyday and functionality as well.

    Though verse be beautiful, I want its power and its mass,
    to simultaneously catch a mighty mountain pass
    beneath a starry sky in northern California,
    a corner of the universe at its unstable door.

    Let me possess a crafted work that sits right…next to me,
    where clever metrics, rhymes and rockets launch an ecstasy.
    I roam the poem in the proem of the cosmic sea,
    and pause to smell a rose within the prose of what can be.

    “G-Mafia” on the other hand, deals with a serious moment of our present era, which somehow (though Wise may not know how) has to be able to communicate its ideas a century or more from now, much as Osip Mandelstam’s poem communicated to him here now in this its next century—the 21st—ideas he used to explain one aspect of the present situation.

  8. Bruce Dale Wise

    It is nice that a reader @SCP has spoken up for the kind of poetry Emily Dickinson wrote. I was just surprised to find I was being criticized for not appreciating, or using, Dickinsonian diction, especially when it is her verse which deeply informs the stance I am taking. I know others feel diff’rently; Mr. Phillips (Monty), for example, is appalled even by the visual component of her poetry; but of 19th century English writers, it is her poetry that I have most deeply been moved by. Though the visions of Poe, Hawthorne, or Melville were much larger than hers, her battening down on the ballad (after Blake, Southey and others) was really the key for me to escape the Romantics, but not go willy-nilly after the likes of Tennyson, Browning, Hopkins, or Whitman. In some ways, however, her poetry seems too idiosyncratic; for example, like Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Blake and T. S. Eliot, she avoided the sonnet. [I do understand that, however, especially when one is crafting a new poetic line.]

    A Listing of Ten Poems of Massachusetts Poet Emily Dickinson

    “I counted till they danced so
    Their slippers leaped the town—
    And then I took a pencil
    To note the rebels down—
    And then they grew so jolly
    I did resign the prig—
    And ten of my once stately toes
    Are marshaled for a jig!”
    —Emily Dickinson

    There are probably more than ten sites that rank the best Emily Dickinson poems on the Internet; but as some promote top ten lists, I thought I too would make one as well for one of my top ten 19th century English poets—Emily Dickinson. I have listed ten poems in strict alphabetical order—not by proper titling order, but by exact alphabetical order; so in one sense their ranking is random.

    There is a quality of Dickinson’s work that belies a top ten of her poems. If, for example, one attempted to make a list of the top ten worst poems by Emily Dickinson, one would undoubtedly still find gems within each of those poems. Like Shakespeare’s plays and poems, even in her worst works there is an interest in the voice. So, in a longer poem, like “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” there is so much to like, it is hard to exclude it, as it has more substance than most of the poems included here. It is a brilliant tour de force. And even some of the shorter poems, like “Color—Caste—Denomination—” hit such a perfect note, it is hard to keep them hence.

    A note on the poem presentations: as Dickinson never had a book of poems published in her lifetime, many of these poems might not have been presented as they are seen here.

    A Bird came down the Walk—
    He did not know I saw—
    He bit an Angleworm in halves
    And ate the Fellow, raw,

    And then he drank a Dew
    From a convenient Grass—
    And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
    To let a Beetle pass—

    He glanced with rapid eyes
    That hurried all around—
    They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
    He stirred his Velvet Head

    Like one in danger, Cautious,
    I offered him a Crumb
    And he unrolled his feather
    And rowed him softer home—

    Than Oars divide the Ocean,
    Too silver for a seam—
    Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
    Leap, plashless as they swim.

    A narrow Fellow in the Grass
    Occasionally rides—
    You may have met—Him—did you not—
    His notice sudden is—

    The Grass divides as with a Comb—
    A spotted shaft is seen—
    And then it closes at your feet
    And opens further on—

    He likes a Boggy Acre—
    A floor too cool for Corn—
    But when a Boy and Barefoot—
    I more than once at Noon

    Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
    Unbraiding in the Sun
    When stooping to secure it
    It wrinkled, and was gone—

    Several of Nature’s People
    I know, and they know me—
    I feel for them a transport
    Of Cordiality—

    But never met this Fellow
    Attended, or alone
    Without a tighter breathing
    And Zero at the Bone—

    Apparently with no surprise
    To any happy Flower
    The Frost beheads it at its play—
    In accidental power—

    The blonde Assassin passes on—
    The Sun proceeds unmoved
    To measure off another Day
    For an Approving God.

    Because I could not stop for Death—
    He kindly stopped for me—
    The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
    And Immortality.

    We slowly drove—He knew no haste
    And I had put away
    My labor and my leisure too,
    For His Civility—

    We passed the School, where Children strove
    At Recess—in the Ring—
    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
    We passed the Setting Sun—

    Or rather—He passed us—
    The Dews drew quivering and chill—
    For only Gossamer, my Gown—
    My tippet—only Tulle—

    We paused before a House that seemed
    A swelling of the Ground—
    The Roof was scarcely visible—
    The Cornice—in the Ground—

    Since then—t’is Centuries—and yet
    Feel shorter than the Day
    I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
    Were toward Eternity—

    Hope is the thing with feathers—
    That perches in the soul—
    And sings the tune without the words—
    And never stops—at all—

    And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
    And sore must be the storm—
    That could abash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm—

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
    And on the strangest Sea—
    Yet, never, in Extremity,
    It asked a crumb—of Me.

    If you were coming in the Fall
    I’d brush a Summer by
    With half a smile, half a spurn,
    As Housewives do, a Fly.

    If I could see you in a year
    I’d wind the months in balls—
    And put them each in separate Drawers.
    For fear the numbers fuse—

    If only Centuries, delayed,
    I’d count them on my hand,
    Subtracting, till my fingers dropped
    Into Van Dieman’s Land.

    If certain, when this life was out—
    That yours and mine, should be,
    I’d toss it yonder, like a Rind
    And take Eternity—

    But, now, uncertain of the length
    Of this, that is between,
    It goads me, like the Goblin Bee—
    That will not state—its sting.

    I like to see it lap the Miles,
    And lick the valleys up,
    And stop to feed itself at tanks;
    And then, prodigious, step

    Around a pile of mountains,
    And, supercilious, peer
    In shanties by the sides of roads;
    And then a quarry pare

    To fit its sides, and crawl between,
    Complaining all the while
    In horrid, hooting stanza;
    Then chase itself down hill

    And neigh like Boanerges;
    Then, punctual as a star,
    Stop—docile and omnipotent—
    At its own stable door.

    I’m Nobody! Who are you?
    Are you—Nobody—too?
    Then there’s a pair of us!
    Don’t tell! they’d banish us—you know!

    How dreary—to be—Somebody!
    How public—like a Frog—
    To tell one’s name—the livelong Day—
    To an admiring Bog!

    I taste a liquor never brewed—
    From tankards scooped in Pearl—
    Not all the vats upon the Rhine
    Yield such an Alcohol!

    Inebriate of air—am I—
    And Debauchee of Dew—
    Reeling—thro’ endless summer days—
    From inns of molten Blue—

    When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
    Out of the Foxglove’s door—
    When Butterflies—renounce their “drams”—
    I shall but drink the more!

    Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats—
    And Saints—to windows run—
    To see the little Tippler
    Leaning against the—Sun!

    Success is counted sweetest
    By those who ne’er succeed.
    To comprehend a nectar
    Requires sorest need.

    Not one of all the purple Host
    Who took the Flag today
    Can tell the definition
    So clear, of victory,

    As he, defeated—dying—
    On whose forbidden ear
    The distant strains of triumph
    Burst, agonized and clear!

  9. Paul

    Emily had a rich imagination and a very high intelligence, and they both came together in the beautiful diamonds of poems she wrote, many of which were about the very writing of poems itself. I struggled for a long time wondering what she was talking about in her poem that begins “Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?” – until I realized she was talking about the writing of poems. And of course her poem that begins “You cannot put a Fire out” is about her poems, tucking them away in her dresser drawer. And I recently realized her poem that begins “To One denied to drink” could well be about people who don’t “get” either poetry or her poems – that they’re denied to drink the beauty of these works. As much as I revere Bach, Haydn, Picasso, Vermeer, Cezanne, Shakespeare, Wallace Stevens, Thomas, and so many others – I consider Emily the greatest artist of them all. Her works not only have music, soul, and magic, but cognitive sense (meaning, poetic ambiguity, logic, etc.) – and aspects that only human language can carry.

  10. Bruce Dale Wise

    1. Dickinson had a “rich imagination and a very high intelligence” is true as far as it goes; but so too have thousands of poets over time.

    2. Writing about writing itself is nothing more than literary criticism—often pretentious, it has been certainly overindulged in English literature—but even moreso in Modern and Postmodern French literature. To a certain degree, in my mind, metapoetry is navel-gazing.

    3. I cannot think of a more benighted position than to think that Dickinson is the “greatest artist of them all”. In poetry alone, I can think of hundreds of poets whose poetic visions were superior to hers, let alone in other areas, as those you mentioned, music and painting, and so many other areas. Meaning, ambiguity and logic are important in thought, but so too are many other things. I cannot think humanity could ever place Dickinson on a par with even ancient Greek writers, like Homer, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Euclid, Archimedes, and Apollonius of Perga; and the list just goes on in ancient Greece and then through culture after culture in area after area up to the present.

    4. That said, her poetry is still of interest. Here is a page from an early unpublished anthology of mine:

    Although Dickinson is not a writer of lengthy works, I have learned much about writing from her, especially in the areas of meter, rhetoric, and rhyme.

    Emily Dickinson

    The ballerina spins around
    in shiny, frilly clothes.
    The only point she touches ground
    is on her iron toes.

    She spins about in circling swirls,
    then floats firm as a cloud,
    a flower opening unfurls
    its petals for the crowd.

    She takes a leap across the stage,
    a pirouette in space,
    then drops into what seems an age
    her faint and painted face.

    And on it goes, she does not stoop,
    it seems she will not pause,
    until she flops, and sepals droop.
    to thunderous applause.

    Dickinson Missive on the Celebration of the Railway

    “In Amherst, Massachusetts, in the dead
    of June in 1853, the day
    passed grandly off—so all the people said—
    though it was pretty hot, and dusty too.
    Nobody cared for that. As usual,
    my Father was Chief Marshall of the Day,
    and marched around, like an old General
    of Rome upon a Triumph Day, with New
    London at his heels. Hither, thither, yon,
    carriages flew like sparks. All said ’twas fine.
    I s’pose it was—I saw the train move on
    there from Prof Tyler’s woods—in hidden vine—
    and then ran home for fear someone would see
    me, or ask me how I did—Emily.”

    The first work shows my interest in the ballad, while the second work, is a condensation of Dickinson’s exact words from a fascinating letter of hers. I placed it in a rather contorted sonnet, partly because she never wrote a sonnet herself.


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