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A stylized photo of Hazel Hall

Curtains On the Wall: The Poetry of Hazel Hall

“All art is political.” Oh, yawn. Not again with the politics. Why are people occasioned to state this? Would it be any different to claim that all art is religious? That where one sees politics another sees Jesus? What would be the difference? Allow me to explain. Not about politics or religion, as that is a different essay. But rather, I immediately was reminded of Hazel Hall, a poet who has been largely overlooked, but my hope is that future readership will alter this.

Hall was not a political poet. (Nor was she particularly religious for that matter.) In fact, her poems are, on surface, easy to overlook. Many involve her love of stitching or the sound of footfalls, or even watching others walk. She is, in fact, anti-political. Why? Because she remains outside the regular clamor and din of political chatter. Spending much her life within a wheelchair, Hazel Hall is the utmost poet of observation. She sat and looked and reflected, and then wrote about it later. Who knew her? Who looked up into that window that housed this not so silent woman? Many compare her to Emily Dickinson, and there are indeed some similarities. Both engaged in reclusive lifestyles. Both wrote in a somewhat rhyming form (which you will see later), and neither longed to engage much past their private windows. Hall perhaps had more opportunity to engage others, but with so little known of her, readers can’t be sure. […]

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Bob Dylan in color tint, singer of "Blowin' in the Wind" and "I Contain Multitudes"

I Want to Make it Big: Analyzing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” & “I Contain Multitudes”

Bob Dylan told a fan when he was starting out that he wanted to be “big”, really big. That he has done. Winning a Nobel Prize as Dylan did in 2016 is a pinnacle in anybody’s career. Over seven decades he has brought light and life to the world with his spellbinding songs. Jesus preached three years. What does it take to stay in the limelight for over sixty? There are many answers to that question; I just understand it as a God-given gift. Dylan is a gift and others have blessed him with gifts in return, very expansive gifts. The question might be, why Dylan? And the answer would be that he put himself in that spot. I’m going to analyze his road with two of his songs, Blowin’ in the Wind, and I Contain Multitudes, songs at either end of his career.

He positioned himself into the spotlight with the anthem Blowin’ in the Wind. Although it’s truly laudatory in its own right, Dylan needed the help of Peter, Paul, and Mary to popularize it. Soon it was adopted as a theme song for the Left. But why? Dylan claims he never intended that. Instead it was only a song that he wrote in ten minutes according to him. Why the greatness associated with it? Let’s take a look. […]

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A collage of Simone de Beauvoir, with sepia tint to indicate entropy and passage of time

Entropy and Simone de Beauvoir

In this COVID Age, entropy is especially on my mind.  That and the deliciously bold derrière of author, philosopher, and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir.

Entropy is, put simply—if not simplistically—that quality of a system which exhibits increasing disorder and randomness, a decline into senile smoothness.  It is the broken egg on the kitchen floor, never to be whole again.  It is the spilled cup of coffee which will never rise from the floor, full and steaming.  It is the running down of Everything.  For us humans, it is aging.

Entropy is a fact of this universe (and any parallel ones), but knowing all that doesn’t ease my transition out of bed into the morning’s waking world.  It seems to me that this decade of my life came sneaking across the threshold of my reality unbidden, unannounced and, until it was taking up residence in the house, unremarked. But that’s the way of things for humans, isn’t it?  We flourish, follow our trajectory, and never give thought to our demise, let alone the long (if we are lucky) downhill slope which precedes it. […]

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Character pointing gun in John Sayles's Lone Star

John Sayles’s “Lone Star” (1996): Racial Drama, Greek Tragedy, Western

At its core, John Sayles’s Lone Star is about such demarcations, and who, ultimately, gets to do the demarcating. It’s also about the oftentimes tense relations between the multi-ethnic populations of a small town on the US-Mexico border, as well as the corruption that stems from evil; and, as if those weren’t enough to handle, there’s enough time for a tender tale of star-crossed lovers. It’s a testament to Sayles’s skills as an artist that Lone Star manages to juggle all these narratives (and more) while still coming across as a coherent whole, its themes bold enough for most audiences to detect their presence but deployed with such subtlety to reward repeated viewings. It’s the above quotation, however, that reveals John Sayles as not only the great American independent filmmaker but one of the medium’s keenest observers of societal conflict, whether it be in urban cityscapes (City of Hope), the colonial tropics (Amigo) or more fantastical, rustic settings (The Secret of Roan Inish). That he puts these words in the mouth of a mildly bigoted bartender, in a moment of seemingly throwaway comedy, shows his attention to detail, as even tertiary characters are given more than one dimension and are treated not as window dressing but as ordinary people with their own wants, aims, and philosophies, despite their brevity. It’s ordinary people, after all, who live among such demarcations, and it’s ordinary people who suffer men like Charlie Wade and Buddy Deeds to administer, encourage and/or expunge them. […]

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Stylized photo of Helen Vendler next to a checkmate chess board.

The Issue To Create: Debunking a Helen Vendler Myth With (Good) Poetry

“The issue of a good poem must be urgent to the poet.”

– The Art of Shakespeare Sonnets by Helen Vendler

…and the issue of literary critics is how they make banalities or bullshit sound pithy. Thus we have the above statement, which, in essence, translates to: “Poets make good shit when they care about their shit”. Contextually, this is excerpted from Helen Vendler’s analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 01, where she makes the case that the sonnet is more limited than Shakespeare’s No. 17, because 17 deals with “issues of mortality and corruption”, which Shakespeare gave more of a damn about, as opposed to the “dynastic question” of 01. Well, Helen is half-right. Sonnet 01 is worse than Sonnet 17. Only, the mechanism is less a matter of the shit Shakespeare cared about, than that, simply, Sonnet 01 was made when Shakespeare’s mind was snoozing, and 17 when that same mind was musing. Having reached the stage where I can call myself a poet who has written a couple good poems, or better, two of which you can see over at Cosmoetica’s Vers Magnifique section, I now have the privilege of saying: Helen, YOU’RE FULL OF SHIT.

Let me clarify a couple things. This article serves as a poetic self-evaluation of my current scant successes in the realm of poesizing. What it isn’t, though, is a step-by-step guide for other amateur poets. Maybe you’ll find clues, a couple of useful hints here and there. What I’ll be focusing on is what didn’t matter. Some myth-busting to prevent the Helen Vendler types from clogging things up with distractions. With the biographical fluff, in other words. Stuff like whether you should write by hand or type. Whether extensive research helps. Whether having a strong stance about your subject really matters. And, unlike other writers who tend to be coy and mysterious about their actual craft, I intend to be thorough and lay it all out, to the best of my memory. […]

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Example of Joe Biden's cultural forever war, with emotions caught on newspaper

Forever War: How Politics Work In Joe Biden’s America

In the last few decades, the term forever war has come to denote an unpleasant fact for imperial ambition- namely, that superpowers have ceased to exist, dislodged by regional actors limited to their own spheres of influence, while influence itself grows narrower and more abstract. Thirty years after America failed to take Vietnam, it would fail for much the same reason in Afghanistan and Iraq: lately, empire cannot explain its purpose even to itself, much less to its victims, whose soft power must be recruited to win modern wars. But while there is no way to hide material losses in combat, the world’s gradual abandonment of violence will, ironically, do more to expand the concept of ‘forever war’ than the usufructs of empire ever could. That’s because the forever war abroad- wasteful, belligerent, transparent in intent yet maddeningly plausible to the median dolt- is being transformed into a cultural war of attrition at home, through the same loss of purpose. I mean, what is America’s legitimating function anyway? It can’t be to lead the world on climate change. It’s certainly NOT to teach others how to mitigate a global pandemic at a time when infectious diseases are slated to redouble. It has terrible health outcomes, bad infrastructure, political gridlock, and- with crisis after unresolved crisis- doesn’t even pretend to care about the working class. Put another way, America has scrambled its own legitimation story, even though the rest of the world has not believed this story for some time now. And so, America has lost its wars and is in the process of losing the most important one, as faith in democracy collapses at home and authoritarian doldrums envelop abroad. No one, it’s been said, saw this coming, but isn’t that the point? If civic engagement is cratered- that is, if the legitimation story gets rejected- this is less a failure of voters than of the choices they are bullied into. Now that Donald Trump is gone, voter turnout is poised to collapse once more, albeit for Democrats, at first, now that the media must settle for huffing Joe Biden’s farts as the radical right preps from the paddocks it’s been exiled into. Yet the question of why this is and what makes it so predictable is rarely covered, despite it being ‘the’ political question of our time, and thus needs to be understood before any other question gets adjudicated. […]

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Man carrying thing, used as a photo for the Wallace Stevens poem

Analysis: Wallace Stevens’s “Man Carrying Thing”

I won’t miss this day. In fact, I’ll try to make up for it by jotting down my thoughts on a Wallace Stevens poem, “Man Carrying Thing”. I just memorized it (hopefully it sticks) and it’s a fun thing to rattle off and attempt to wrap your head around. He wrote these incredibly eloquent, philosophical puzzles that require multiple readings and deep thought to unpack, if not fully understand. I’m not sure most of Stevens’s poems have a singular, unitary meaning. Perhaps some of the simpler ones do. However, most of the famous, great Stevens poems possess a multiplicity (not infinity) of meanings that merge and interweave and clash. The act of reading his poems isn’t trying to find out what they mean – as if each one came with a packaged, one-sentence definition. It’s parsing out each part, uncovering different meanings and how they interact to form a complex yet congruous whole – certainly one that requires many paragraphs, if not entire pages (books, even!), to elaborate on. The thing I love most about Stevens’s poems is how many questions unravel after landing on a likely answer. Again, there’s a limit to these questions, but the point is that his poems are a delight to return to again and again, since they seem to grow in stature and meaning as one grows in life experience. Without further ado, here’s the poem. […]

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A potential female AI or sexbot

Sexbots, Theseus, and Color TVs

What with all the recent angst over the “soul of America” and the accompanying struggle to make America great again or to return America to normal, it comforts me to know that for a mere ten grand or so, I can buy a machine to have sex with.  It comforts me to know that good old American know-how is still alive and well; it comforts me to know that no matter how many riots occur, how many fences and walls are built, whether the nation’s children ever set foot in a classroom again, I can relieve my anxiety and stress by going home to my sexbot and getting a proper snuggle.

Curmudgeonly ethics professors and traditionalists of all stripes are in an uproar.  These people don’t seem all that concerned about rubbing the lamp for other applications of Artificial Intelligence that has already been done and is continuing.  It’s not like just freeing a genie, because after your three wishes, the lamp becomes inert and the genie goes off to wait for his or her next assignment.  THIS genie produces a never-ending stream of fulfilled wishes:  sex with AI-enhanced bots, war with AI-enhanced bots, space travel and colonization with more bots, cars and taxis and trains and semis hauling goods—all robots serving mankind.  Why, it’s breathtaking.  No the angst is reserved for sex (as Americans seem to be constantly outraged about)—specifically sex with machines, with robots, with non-humans. […]