The Problem with Socialism

Upon Reading Charles Murray’s Coming Apart

Some sit on clouds and moonburn as they dream,
Skin blistered pale by light of mirrored beams,
And snuggle with the shadows where they loom,
Unmindful that the waking hour brings doom.

High minds cement high parapets with mud,
While wealth will cushion thrones covered in blood.
But all the glue and feathers one applies
Won’t float a castle anchored in the skies.

Some lie in dirt and slumber dreamlessly,
Cadavered in the dark’s obesity,
‘Til Peeping Justice sends her plague of doves
To right the wrongs that no one’s conscious of.

Unlinking ring and cross turns both to chains;
Abridging books unfolds the open brain—
As love and freedom beat within the breast,
The lower lobe will colonize the rest.

Some hang halfway and breathe the grimy air,
Besieged by two realms rooted in nowhere:
Descending from ape to fast become worm,
Or rising from clay to join gods infirm.

Invading krakens plumb bedrooms and roar
For perfect worlds where angels cannot soar;
Men wake and crack the earth open to find
Utopia—the rotten seed inside.



Andrew Benson Brown was a graduate student at George Mason University before taking too many classes outside his discipline coincided with the reality of Debt. He now works as a children’s caseworker in rural Missouri. In his spare time he reads obscure classics, writes things of little market value, and exercises far more than is befitting for a modern intellectual.

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22 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    A fantastic poem with remarkable imagery, and so well-presented by the Society with the perfectly appropriate Bosch.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Mr. Tessitore,

      I greatly appreciate the kind words. Submitting one’s work to the gaze of the public is an anxiety-provoking experience, and you have helped to bolster my confidence.

      The choice of Bosch is almost eerie…he’s one of my favorite painters.

      Incidentally, I was recently reading Journal VII put out by the Society, and was powerfully struck by your poem on the choosing of U.S. poet laureates. I myself have had similar thoughts on the subject, less eloquently expressed. I like to envision Carla Hayden sleeping with this poem poised over her, like the Sword of Damocles, ready to give her a fatal paper cut at any moment. But alas, I fear she is just preparing to nominate Joy Harjo for a second term.

  2. Sathyanarayana

    So many surreal images, so poignant and powerful. A stunning piece of poetry.
    “Slumber dreamlessly… ”
    “Waking hours bring doom”
    etc. etc. and ends with a stunning line:”utopia -a rotten seed inside. ”

    Mist probably one of the best (great) poems I have ever read. With the permission of the author I wish to send it to friends andvpost in facebook.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Thank you, Sathyanarayana. Though I have some lurking doubts as to the poem’s ultimate merits, it feels good to imbibe your generous spirit. You are welcome to reproduce it wherever. I find suppression-by-copyright to be one of the chief banes of the modern world.

      May I say that you have a very beautiful name? I would someday like to earn a name like this. I have a very bad name. My parentage is sorely lacking in cognominal grandeur. I imagine you as one who sprung from the birth canal in full mastery of the Noble Eightfold Path.

      • Sathyanarayana

        Dear Brown, certainly I was not trying to flatter you. I never do it. I saw great merit in your poems…those images working so well with the concept. So close to the Indian perspective and practice of poetry. Those surreal images are often used by Leftist poets in India. I felt you hit them with their own weapon. Further your images reminded me of India’s greatest Telugu poet SriSri. But I guess the West is not much used to this kind of metaphorical allusions. So I see not many comments. (So far). With due respect to Prof. Salemi, I feel that when the concept and expression run tandum with grace, clarity and beauty, metrical flaws are very small piccadillies.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Sathyanarayana (responding to your reply to my reply)— that is all very interesting. Other than a long poem by Kalidasa I once read, I am only familiar with Indian poetry where it overlaps with philosophy, though the difference there seems to parallel the difference you noted between Indian and Western poetry. With Patanjali’s sutras or Nagarjuna’s verses, the point seems to be to get you to pause and ponder the meaning to reach some fundamental intuition, rather than guiding you along in a chain of logical connections, as the discursive methods of western philosophy do. Sometimes I have the experience when reading a poem that I am carried along by its galloping meter, then get to the end and say, ‘that was nice, there were some nice images,’ and that’s it. (This is, admittedly, the main purpose of a poem.)
      I’m not really good enough at this point, though, to overlook Professor Salemi’s astute comments.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    An interesting poem, though some of the imagery is cryptic. I would suggest two minor metrical fixes. In the second line of the second quatrain, “covered” throws the scansion off. This would work better:

    While wealth will cushion thrones awash in blood

    This has the advantage of adding to the /w/ alliteration of the line.

    In the fifth quatrain, the third line is very hard to scan as it currently stands. I’d suggest this as a change:

    Descending from ape, fast becoming worm

    This has the advantage of not only making the meter regular, but also of using a neat parallel structure of two present participles.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Mr. Salemi,

      Your suggestions for the line changes are very helpful. I can see that I, a poor Neophyte in versifying, have a lot to agonize over before I am able to achieve Absolute Metrical Intuition.

      I fear the poem does not meet your criteria for having ‘hard edges,’ though I am not sure whether its cryptic quality (also noted when I first submitted it, and which I readily acknowledge), falls into the flabby, soft, or imprecise category…or partakes of all three at once.

      Obscurity is a bit of a bad habit for me (I am inclined to say, even a personality trait). Any advice?

      In what seems sheer coincidence, I just finished your collection ‘Steel Masks’ in the wee hours of yesterday morning, so it is rather auspicious that I am actually conversing with you now.

      There are, of course, no coincidences. I consider this μοίρα with a capital ‘F.’ My thread of life lies betwixt your silver scissors.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    There’s nothing wrong with some obscurity, per se. It can make a poem mysterious and alluring, just like mascara and lipstick on a woman’s face. But if it dominates the entire poem, the entire logical structure of the piece suffers and becomes too opaque.

    In this poem, the only clue that I have as to its meaning is the title, and the explanatory epigraph about Charles Murray’s book. If they were absent, I’d still see the beauty of the language but I would not necessarily have connected it with a critique of socialism. For this reason, I commented only on metrical issues.

    Sometimes deep obscurity works. For example, in T.S. Eliot’s “Sweeney Among The Nightingales” the obscurity of its allusions and references are redeemed by the absolute magnificence of suggestion and implication that are conjured up. That’s why Eliot’s poem is one of the most perfect literary creations of the twentieth century. Even when it is not totally clear, it has an earthshaking effect.

    But most of us simply can’t pull off that sort of achievement. We have to stick more closely to clarity and direct statement. Otherwise we’ll slip into facile modernism, or (even worse) surrealism.

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      Thank you for that exposition. I will try to stick to clarity and directness for the most part…while practicing in private some exercises in deep obscurity.

  5. Julian D. Woodruff

    Or, to make 5.3 still more metrically consonant, perhaps this:
    Descending first from ape, and now to worm
    (or “once” for “first”?)

    • Andrew Benson Brown

      That would also be a better alternative to the present line, and avoids my own subjective tendency to interpret ‘from ape’ as weak/strong in Prof. Salemi’s suggestion of ‘Descending from ape, fast becoming worm’ (though losing the neat parallel structure of the present participles).
      On the topic of metrical consistency, I was wondering about the permissibility of variation. When I read Tennyson I notice that he isn’t a purist in meter. He will often substitute a trochee or a spondee for an iamb, or start a line with two weak syllables followed by two strong syllables, and he does this kind of a lot. How much substitution is too much, and when does it reach the point of sloppiness? —Would Tennyson have been better suited to a career of sloshing around on floors with mop buckets? Victoria’s melancholy master janitor?

      • C.B. Anderson

        Perhaps you can do both, Andrew, or perhaps there’s a middle ground. There’s nothing ever wrong with clarity of expression, and even flights of oblique fancy ought to connect, ultimately, with a firm landing ground. If your ideal is to connect with readers, then you should make poems that can be read and need not be deciphered. Beautiful and extravagant language tends to crash if it is nothing more than fluff.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    The crucial thing in metrical verse is the stresses, not the number of syllables. Not even Shakespeare had exactly ten syllables in his iambic pentameter lines all the time. And although you may have ten syllables in your iambic pentameter line, that doesn’t guarantee that it will scan correctly.

    Don’t be a syllable-counter.

    • Sathyanarayana

      Prof. Salami Sir, exactly the same thing I have been telling. Still people keep carping on the same misinterpretation of English metrical writing. Once to such a critique I gave few examples quoting Shakespeare. An authority of metrial verse like you, I wish writes a good exhaustive article on this for SCP to end once for all this kind of nonsense. Thank you Sir.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        To Sathyanarayana —

        There have been several disputes here at the SCP website discussion threads concerning this issue. I too have pointed out during those disputes that Shakespeare was not a syllable-counter, and that stress is the dominant factor in English meter. But there are some very stubborn persons here who persist in counting syllables. They simply will not listen.

  7. Sathyanarayana

    I could quickly connect to this poem, understand it and appreciate it…most probably because I am an Indian poet. In Indian languages we use a lot of tropes-metaphors, similes, symbolism etc. all together we call as Alankaras or embellishments. The poetry of great poets like Kalidasa, Dandi, Bharavi in Sanskrit are full of such expressions. If Mr. Anderson couldn’t understand it, it’s of course his problem. If he realizes his own literal inadequacies, it’s better for him and other good poets published here.

  8. Andrew Benson Brown

    Man…this thread is getting kind of heated! I never intended to start such a controversy.

    C.B.: that is sound advice. I’m reminded of the philosopher-poet Dogen, who had an incredible aptitude for combining the famous Zen head-scratching style with extreme simplicity and clarity. It’s very difficult to pull off, and being one of the Unenlightened, I’m naturally not on that level.
    I read that you have published over 600 poems…are you some kind of versifying god? A freak with six arms and six quills? That is a gargantuan feat.
    I have your latest collection on my stack, and hope to get some time to study it soon. I’m sure you will make a good model for me.

    Joseph: Yes, I notice you yourself will sometimes push lines out to eleven syllables in your own poetry, and end with a weak stress.
    What I meant in my question above was actually one of stress rather than syllables, sorry to confuse. In your essay on how to write poetry, you say that its OK to vary the meter so long as its still recognizable. How many pyrrhic/spondaic/trochaic feet can be reasonably substituted for an iambic foot per line, or across lines, before the scansion gets lost? No more than once? Or maybe I should just avoid doing this at all.

    Sathyanarayana: Thanks for the support! I wish I could say I was consciously employing Alankaras in the poem, but until now I didn’t know what that was. It’s a fascinating concept. It’s been almost ten years since I read ‘The Birth of Kumara,’ and I should probably break out my Kalidasa volume again. I know there are a lot of volumes in the Clay Sanskrit Library, and I need to get some more. I’m fortunate to be living in a time where there are so many excellent translations of previously unavailable classics.

    I guess I should probably stop commenting on my own thread, lest this poem become artificially inflated into the ‘popular’ category on the site.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      To answer your question as to how much substitution is allowed in formal, metrical verse, I can say this: Not so much as to make the line unscannable. If the poet strays too far from the ideal template of a metrical line, then he’s simply not writing traditional, classical, metrical poetry at all. He’s just producing some kind of half-assed free verse.

      What baffles me is that there are so many persons who claim to be writing formal, classical, and metrical verse who utterly disregard this restriction; and when you point it out they make all sorts of libertarian whines about “freedom” and “poetic license” and “the need to be open to new forms.”

      To which I reply “Why should we accept your poems as ‘formal’ and ‘classical’ if they don’t recognizably adhere to any metrical pattern?” At that point they walk away in a snit, and start complaining about conservative rigidity.

      • C.B. Anderson

        In an article by Richard Moore about meter (Raintown Review, February 2007), he writes:

        [Y]ou can have two pyrrhics or two trochees in a [iambic] pentameter line, without losing the rhythm, if they are separated by iambs; but if the aberrant feet come together,… the rhythm gets lost.


        All tolerable rhythms must be varied to avoid monotony, but if they are varied too much, we feel that there is no rhythm and that order has been replaced by chaos. Where is the point of “too much,” the breaking point? … — that point where beautifully varied rhythm gets too beautiful and turns into ugly formlessness.

  9. Monty

    This is quite well written, Andrew. I can’t pretend that I’m comfy with the inconsistency of rhyme, but I can see that you’ve got a natural gift of writing with clarity of diction; coupled with a good command of our language, which you’ve used to full effect (especially in some of your metaphors: ‘a plague of doves’; ‘from ape to worm’, etc). And as can be seen from some of your comments, you write delicious prose.

    I hope you weren’t put off by some of the above comments from writing ‘obscure’ poetry in the future; it’s your prerogative, and you should be encouraged by the fact that it didn’t do Dylan Thomas any harm. But his ‘obscurity’ was done in a way that the reader might eventually grasp some meaning the further they read into a poem. For example, in a six-stanza poem, the first two stanzas might appear to be completely unfathomable (esoteric, almost), but by the time one reaches the fourth or fifth stanza, the first two might appear to make some sort of sense. And even if that ‘sense’ is different to that intended by Thomas (which is alright: much of his poetry is intentionally ambiguous), it’s still a ‘sense’; a base from which to delve deeper into words and lines; a base to cling on to.

    The way I see it, Andrew, the difficulty with your piece above is . . it hasn’t got such a base to cling on to. There’s nothing for the reader to marry any one stanza to another. One could even say that all six individual stanzas seem like they’ve been extracted from six other poems, and randomly lumped together. D’you see what I’m saying? They need a base to link them, even if it’s only a meagre one. This was summed-up perfectly by another commenter above when he said: “Even flights of oblique fancy ought to connect, ultimately, to a firm landing-ground”. I wouldn’t say the word ‘firm’ is necessary, but a landing-ground.. yes. A ground, a base . . upon which each stanza can sit. Without that base, one can get to the end of a poem (which I did with yours above) feeling like they’ve just read six individual stanzas.

    I hope you submit further pieces to this site, Andrew: you’ve undoubtedly got the knack for writing poetry.


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