A Haiku for Prognosticators

Photo by Mario Rendon

Photo by Mario Rendon

Behind the rain clouds
They say the full moon is bright—
We’ve heard that before

AGG20131119

Depth Charge: A haiku for all preachers, priests, prophets, seers, soothsayers, fortune tellers, market analysts, politicians, business reporters, stockbrokers, oncologists and anyone else who is trying to tell you that it will all work out for the best.

 

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

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Poets, thieves and liars (Part III)

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” – T.S. Eliot

Salute, Walt Whitman by Duane Michals

Salute, Walt Whitman by Duane Michals

In part one of this fractured essay we discussed how Mohammed disparaged other poets because he claimed they were peddling lies. Of course, he was peddling lies too, but lies different to theirs and, when you are claiming that your lies are the truth, this becomes a problem.  He addressed the issue by suppressing the other poets as soon as he was in a position to do so.

Exacerbating his truth problem was that fact that he stole from the same sources as the other poets, mainly the Abrahamic myths of the Jews, some of the Jesus myths, and assorted other hoodoo that was in the air at that time and place.  In the recycling process small variations inevitably crept in, which is no problem if you are not laying claim to absolute truth, but a big one if you are. Is the Koran, the Torah or the Bible the definitive take on the Exodus, the destruction of Sodom, Noah and the Flood?

Modern day poets are released from this concern about Big-T truth, but the danger lies in the other direction: endless re-quotation and general wankery completely unfounded in anything except other wankery.  If the poet does not occasionally make reference to the natural world, lived experience, human nature or something outside of the purely literary, he or she quickly disappears up his or her own self-referential behind.

So, it is not only important what you do with your stolen material, equally important is where you steal it from in the first place. This dictum usually gets interpreted as steal from the best, i.e. the best of literature and, don’t get me wrong, literary quotation is a fine and necessary thing, but the ever expanding worlds revealed by science, direct observation of the natural world, and paying attention to the people on your street are too often ignored.

So while it may be true that there is no such thing as a “wrong” poem, there is certainly no shortage of irrelevant ones.  Poets, open your eyes to the world to minimize the chance of adding another one to their ranks.

“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess. ”  – Walt Whitman

Poets, thieves and liars (Part I)

Poets, thieves and liars (Part II)

Poets, thieves and liars (Part II)

In particular, White is outraged that Hitchens would say that “proteins and acids … constitute our nature.” White says no poet would concede this. I would say that no contemporary poet worth his or her salt would deny it.

JeffNicholsMUD

Synopsis of Jeff Nichol’s film Mud: Women are like cottonmouth snakes. You fall in with one, you are going to get bitten. You may live. You may die. Either way, you are going to be in a world of pain.

Towards the end of Jeff Nichols deeply flawed film, Mud, the sometimes girlfriend of the main character says to the young protagonist of the film: “You don’t know Mud. He is a liar and people like him because he makes them feel good about themselves.” Therein is the answer to the question Why the appeal of the lie? that we posed in the first part of this fractured essay.

People listen to liars because liars, expert liars, make people feel good about themselves, and what better way to make people feel good about themselves than by telling them that they have an eternal soul and that a giant sky-pappy loves them.

That this is errant nonsense that an intelligent 10-year-old can see through is not a hindrance to its acceptance, in fact, it facilitates the spreading and assimilation of the lie because, as Oscar Wilde with characteristic perspicuity pointed out, people will believe the impossible, but not the improbable.

Impossible: Sky-daddy made the earth and everything on it in 6 days about 6, 000 years ago. Improbable: Life on earth evolved through a non-externally directed process of natural selection over the course of several billion years.

Modern science has two distinct disadvantages when it comes to combatting religious non-sense — it is improbable and it is incomplete.  Science instills uncertainty and doubt: the engines of inquiry.  Religion shuts the brain down by offering answers that are, on the surface, complete, and it is so patently ludicrous that it is silly to question its dictates, so you don’t.

For too long poets and artists have hitched their wagons to the sky-pappy fantasy train, taking the easy route of the lie that makes people feel good about themselves with words like “soul” and “spirit” and “god.”  Of course, for several hundred years there has also been a line of humanist art, and for several thousand years, a staccato history of art rooted in nature, doubt and wonder that eschewed, or at least downplayed religious sentiment, but the facile appeal of hoodoo has a powerful pull.

A recent article on Salon by Curtis White, an excerpt from his book The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, illustrates the appeal of woo-woo lies. The excerpt is an attack on Christopher Hitchens, an attack largely driven by envy of his success, that attempts to say that Hitchens was not aware of the cultural contributions of religion, which is of course complete nonsense, and that Hitchens misleads about history, also nonsense. Hitchens was eminently aware of these contributions and the history, but he felt they should always be tempered by the humanism of the Enlightenment and that religion’s days as a productive member of human society were long gone, something to be acknowledged, like slavery, and then shelved for more humane options. White claims to be an atheist, but he comes off more as a new age wannabe.

In particular, White is outraged that Hitchens would say that “proteins and acids … constitute our nature.” White says no poet would concede this. I would say that no contemporary poet worth his or her salt would deny it.  The route to true wonder is not the dead end of the soul, the spirit and gods, it is the open ended quest for knowledge in a material universe that may forever elude our complete understanding.

Previous: The appeal of the lie
Next: The art of thievery

 

Anyone who read the Curtis White article cited above would find it enlightenening to read this rebuttal by Carlo Dellora, especially if you have not actually read God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

Poets, thieves and liars (Part I)

“It is the poets whom the erring follow:  Seest thou not how they rove distraught in every valley? And that they say that which they do not?” The Koran, Sura XXVI, The Poets

Mohammed was just jealous. He was upset because his insane ramblings had to compete against other insane ramblings in poetry contests; contests he outlawed once Islam had established itself by force of faith and arms. He turned the poetry slam into a poetry slash and burn. If you are the only liar in town, it is easier to pass off what you are saying as the truth. The trouble arises when you have competing lies, where is the truth to be found then?

This notion that poets are liars stems from the very heart of all poetry: the metaphor, saying that A is B, when this is manifestly not the case:” It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” Well, um, no, Juliet is not the sun, but as any liar will tell you, there is no sense in the soft sell, no place in real poetry for likes and as-ifs. It is a case of go big or stay at home.

Why the appeal of the lie? Where does the power of the metaphor originate? Let’s deal with the second question first, and the answer to that question has been most thoroughly addressed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, in which they state: “We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” In other words, there can be no thoughtful action without metaphor, in truth, no interaction with the world, or each other, without the simple lie of A is B, where this is manifestly not true.

More about poets, thieves and liars here, peace out.