essay

The New Vocabularic Life of the English Poet

murray

In English one can find hundreds of languages distilled, word by word, into something accessible for the poet. French has something to offer, as does Spanish, and certainly German. You will come across a Russian Samizdat or an Arabic bazaar, and many other words have been so assimilated into our common repertoire as to have lost all any timbre of foreignness to English ears. The challenge of the English poet has often been to take in this huddled lexicographic masses, yearning to breathe free, and to make them as much a part of our heritage as they are in their native tongues. This has come about through translation, inspired readings from the classics of other nations, and from sure curiosity and wonder at the variety that came, exiled, from Babel.

No language is so foreign to our own, and poses so great a challenge to art, as our own mother tongue. We have lost much more than we have gained, over the years, and we find ourselves impoverished when it comes to new way of expressing the old ideas that make up the stuff of poetics. We always look for the newest imports to carous with, but of the old friends, decrepit and left lonely lost in the pages of the OED? Old communities of ideas that were once vibrant and sensational in their own way are now lost or mere curiosities without use to the modern wordsmith. We owe it to our audience, and to ourselves, to try and resurrect some of these old terms and to breath new life into our language by recourse to what once was. It is poets who keep a language alive and vibrant for our generation and those to come and it is equally our task to make sure the work of past wordy mixture and genius and is not lost in the long shadow cast by neologisms and exotic new terms fresh from the docks.

As poet myself, and as the son of a poet, I grew up in a world where words held real value and were playthings for growing minds. As with anything one can grow tired of the familiar and the well-worn and begin to crave what is not readily accessible or easy to use. Words are the toys of the intellect and the more we collect the more, and more deeply, we can express our own thoughts and desires. No painter is content with using Prussian blue over and over again; he wishes to create with different hues and colors unfamiliar. We grow weary when we must go back to the same well over and over again and sometimes it is enlightening and rewarding to go a bit further for our mental nourishment.

So many times we look to the clouds and see planes flying there. To what do we compare them but to birds? Maybe that 747 is in fact more like a steel nepheliad, a nymph of the sky, a creature of elegance and beauty that dances between the clouds? This word does not limit our minds, as does its avian counterpart; for how many times can we sour like cranes or geese before we grow tired of imagining ourselves as fowl? Travel then to a sky painted on a grecian urn and look down from above with the eyes of fair nymphs, creatures that inspired lust and excitement in the mortal minds of the past. But do not be ashamed at not thinking of this word first of all. Such deficits of imagination instead pudify, indeed a more elegant way of describing disgust at our own alphabetical limitations. Already English is seeming less staid and more intriguing to us!

We praise eloquence when we encounter it, rightfully so because it is rare enough, but we too often associate this word with the practical use of language to inform and to enrich other minds. What of he who is equally skillful with words be whose aim is more nefarious?

Fallaciloquence is a word that is godsend when we wish to praise the pursuit of the un-praiseworthy practiced skillfully and beautifully. We have know a co-worker or a friend who seems uniquely gifted at worming his or her way out of a task or responsibility with gorgeous ease. We can now accurately name their skill and categorize their genius appropriately. Their Fallaciloquence will never again go unheralded. Our pride may begin to swell now that we have been introduced to such interesting ways of communicating, but wouldn’t it be far more colorful instead for our pride to gumfiate? It has the same meaning but has the taste on the tongue of an old vintage, a word that perhaps our great great great grandfather may have used to chastise the hubris of his boastful brother at the pub. We can transport ourselves to different times with just a few syllables and rearranged letters.

Poetry, like so many of the arts, has been dazzled by the spell of post-modern thought, the tearing apart of old forms and the rejection of traditional ideas of beauty. I say “tear away!” Reject all you will, but remember that what was beautiful was for a reason and can be again if only we revolutionize our way of constructing old forms. ABAB BCBC may seem like a chain linked to a boring and limiting past, but even this meter can be revitalized with some new choice words

 

Roses are red

And Violets are blue

Take me to bed

And I’ll love you

 

A bad poem, too cute and familiar by half, and a poor invitation to a night of carnal pleasure. But what if we play about with the words a bit? Can we find something fresh in this stale composition? Let’s try. What are roses but red? Are they titian, perhaps? And what of blue? So much blue; moods, skies, eyes. It is tiring. But perchance blue is beryl? There is a novel word! Not often we see a “y” used at such a place. So where does that leave us with the poem?

 

Roses are titian

Violets are beryl

Our love can be Grecian

And not quite so sterile

 

Is it a good poem now, with these new words? I think so. It is charming at least and suggest a ribald night ahead where boundaries may be pushed and new physical possibilities explored. You may hate it, but you certainly cannot say it is any more boring than the tired alternative. Even if it is despised by its recipient you can be sure that there will at least be some questions as to the words used, and this can lead to some rather fertile conversation! Words are too often used to introduce topics of discussion, to usher us to better and more interesting things. Words should, themselves, be an incitement to ventilation. What could be a more interesting topic at your next drinking party then the word chanticleer? Now there is a truly delectable cock tale!

Many poets get into the business to woe and to seduce, words being the ultimate aphrodisiac (get thee behind me, oysters!). To pay the perfect compliment to the object of one’s affection can be rewarding in so many ways. But there are only so many “luscious lips” and “fulsome breasts” that can rhapsodized over. But, if you were to inform your sweetheart of your appreciation of her callipygian posterior watch as her eyes widen and her breath quickens. There is praise that is not quite so cliched! And if your beloved is of the male persuasion? Fear not! Unique words of praise are not just of use in describing the fairer sex; his strong features may in fact be pulchritudinous. And why call him your lover when he could be your virile inamorato? There is no need for love and lust to fall back on boring modes of description. Even romance can be a time to exercise your vocabulary.

My advice is aimed at those of us who are poetically inclined but that does not mean that the lay person cannot get in on the word fun! We must throw out our Webster’s, or at least throw them back onto the shelf. Instead let’s bring out our Thesaurus and, even more valuable, or Etymological Dictionaries! Search the web for strange old terms, read obscure reference works, watch foreign films without the subtitles. Do anything and everything possible to expose yourself to words that would otherwise go undiscovered. Never play when  you could gambol. Sometimes we feel like a simpleton, but is it not better to be a foppotee? Always to quaeritate your own limitations. Never make the simple choice, be a sacricolist of language!

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Philosophy

Memento Mori: A Philosophical Musing on Death

death

Death is often postulated as one of the eventualities over which we have no control. “Remember, you will die”, we have been told this many times and in many ways over our collective history. And while it is true we cannot choose not to die, we can certainly, if we are lucky, choose when, where and how we die. Suicide is the last, and most powerful, moral choice possible for an individual. This choice leaves you with some control over the circumstances of your existence. Life, on the other hand, leaves man without any form of suasion against existence. You are born, or you are not, but you have no choice over the circumstances of your creation. You are or you are not, and only by being do we know that we could not have been. We were never given a choice over whether we wished to endure the hardships and the pain of existence, or partake in its pleasures and puzzles. We are slaves to the whim of our creators, our parents, at least insofar as the circumstances of our own being. Life is the the one thing over which we have no control, no culpability, no responsibility. We are victims of life or we are benefactors of it, but we have no choice in having to be faced with the choice.

Long have our moral philosophies and ethical systems made the assumption, forgivable given the inevitability of our existence a postiori, that life is an ultimate good and something which must be preserved at all costs. We see this in the various religions prohibitions against suicide, the fanatical Christian devotion to the cult of the fetus (the unborn, a strange and altogether horrifying concept that brings to mind reanimated corpses or vampirism), and the obsession with a “natural” death, frowning upon medical euthanasia or other pain ending alternatives. Even our secular moral philosophers have weighed in on the side of existence, Camus and his Myth of Sisyphus being the most prominent example that comes to mind. The “other great Algerian” posited a defiant and heroic insistence on life in the face of the apparent absurdity of reality, but he neglects to explore the inherent problem of existential inevitability, the chaos of the individual life that can only be understood after the fact of coming into being. There is no choice in coming to life, but Camus chooses to if not ignore then disregard this fact in favor of an embrace of the  problems inherent to the “power that is”, a life ex post facto. This is an understandable response given the puzzle we are given when it comes to the unaccountable spontaneity of existence. Any philosophical attempt to deal with the realities of life and of its inevitable result, death, must knowingly or unknowingly confront at one point or another a problem. Unaccountable spontaneity, the coming into being without the being predisposed to coming, is something of  a Gordian knot that exists in two dimensions; confront and justify a response to the puzzle of death and you have only untied the part of the knot that you have access too. There is always another part of the knot that came before capacity to confront or even to comprehend. It has been said that life is a sparrow flying in from the cold into a warm reoom before exiting through the opposite window, but that presupposes a realm outside the warm room. We have no “cold place” to come in from; we either are or we are not. Once we realize we are in existence, or at least experience that existence, we have already become, the knot has already been tied, and the chance to puzzle out the solution or too avoid it altogether by choosing oblivion is made for us. We are creatures made at the whim of another, not some Abrahamic deity or deistic life force, but by the biological reproductive imperative itself. We are what our parents fuck, to put it bluntly, we have no part to paly in our own creation besides accepting it as a fait accompli.

A theocratic argument would seem to help solve this paradox, a first cause, a motivating force that decrees our existence and deals in the murky metaphysics of the immortal soul, but this argument, the god postulation, of course falls apart in the face of 3000 years of materialistic and scientific thought and experience. We do not need to go into the fact that even a god would be faced with the paradox of its own existence. Any problem experienced by man can be multiplied in magnitude and made intractable when applied to the divine. If willed into existence, then by what, if willing itself, then how? God is therefore just a more elaborate and monumental version of the same problem: why being? Why no accountability for ones’ own existence?

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Civil rights, Ferguson

White America: WE are the Problem

arton1586

White people, especially white men, are the most dangerous people in the US to people of color, women, immigrants, children and LGBTQIA people. I say this as a white man. We must look in the mirror. See who we are and what we have wrought on this nation and on this world. WE are the problem. WE are the danger that our fellow citizens need to be protected from. It is our fear, our rancor, our privilege, our hate, our greed, our power, our arrogance, our stupidity, our lack of empathy, our closed ears and closed eyes and loud, brash, cruel voices that are the problem. We must correct ourselves before we tear what was once a great democracy to the ground. We must make sure that the efforts and struggles and heroism of men and women like MLK, Malcolm X, Emma Goldman, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Frederick Douglas, Cesar Chavez, Upton Sinclair, Harvey Milk, Eugene V. Debs, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells and  the countless educators, Civil Rights marchers, Reconstruction workers, Union Soldiers and labor rights activists were not in vain. There have been too many Mike Browns, too many black and brown bodies hanging from sturdy tree branches. We must look into our hearts and realize that this nation is dying, this democracy is being taken apart day by day and that we, the white men of this nation, are largely to blame. This is not meant as condemnatory screed, or a public shaming but as a CALL TO ACTION! We are better than this, we are human beings. We must start behaving like human beings and realize that the wealth and power we possess was purloined from the labor of countless millions of women and immigrants and laborers and slaves. We are making monsters of ourselves and plucking the wings off of the better angels of our nature, casting them down into a dark, endless abyss where only capital, power and narcissism remain. The US can only survive if we realize that we are the ones destroying it and making it uninhabitable unlivable, for the millions of our fellow human beings who do not share our gender or our skin tone. We must join our fellows in the streets and marches and teach-in and theaters of national conversation and raise our voices with those who have trod upon for too long with impunity. We are not the master race, no one race is or could be, but how could we even conceive of such a possibility be if we are not even the masters of our own baser instincts. The white man is the rotten core of this mess. We must purge ourselves of our hate and our prejudice. We must make our enemy the powerful, the entrenched interests, the corporations and the warmongers and the do-nothing leeching investor classes. We must make common cause with those who we have wronged. We must rejoin the family of humanity in good standing and atone for our crimes. Only then will we truly deserve a place in the American system.

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Uncategorized

The Fool (Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?)

ted-cruz-smarmy

the fool, he slanders Cicero

to further shameful schemes

while gathered scoundrels beam

and all fancy themselves heros

 

Pontificate from Senate floor

Denounce the people’s choice

Does violence with his voice

Truth is an inconvenient chore

 

Punch drunk on his sound and fury

the fool blathers and blasts

ignorant of the past

a mockery of history

 

The fool “abuses our patience

We cannot help but think

Pretension is his drink

Though ‘tis not much of a defense

Little boys will play with their toys

picture books, rhetoric

Cruising from bile to dreck

Enamoured with their silly ploys

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history

Arguments From Idiots: Civil War Edition

civilwarmap

I am going to address, briefly, in a point by point manner, some of the more stupid arguments some idiots (cough cough southern sympathizers cough cough) make about the US Civil War.

1. The Civil War was “not about slavery”

Yes it was. Read The Scorpion’s Sting for a clear and concise analysis of why people who do not believe the war was over slavery should stop making that argument and start potty training. The South fought over the RIGHT of the state to protect its largest and most profitable institution, chattel slavery. This institution was also seen as integral to preserving the “southern way of life”, which amounted to a feudal patriarchal system where rich plantation slave owners controlled most of the economy and political structure and kept the poor masses in line with promises that they too could someday own another human being. Every state that broke away declared that it was over the right of the states to preserve slavery. The Vice President of the Confederacy declared that secession was over slavery. All the constitutions of the confederate states protected slavery as it existed and claimed a right to expand it or protect it by force. This was not about “tariffs” so get your head out of your ass. Which leads to

2. Most southern soldiers did not own slaves

Most members of the Nazi party did not personally gas Jews but that does not mean they were not fighting for a system that depended upon and allowed this sort of abuses. Southerners fought to “protect their way of life” and that way of life was a slave state that enriched even the poorest whites by making them inherently more human than any black person. They had a choice to fight for a Union that was opposed to the expansion of this way of life…they chose otherwise. These people knew what they were fighting for, and why.

3. Slavery would have/should have been allowed to expire “naturally”.

This isn’t even an argument. It is a pipe-dream, and a rather horrifying one at that. The South wanted to freedom to expand their “peculiar institution” to the territories, and many wanted to expand it even farther to Cuba and to Central and South America. This was a dream of the slavers of the south and the politicians who represented their interests. If slavery would have been allowed to die out “naturally” it could have taken another 5 years…or it could have taken another 100. Either way this would have left millions of people alive and yet to be born to a life of subhuman servitude, abuse, rape, and death. If this had been allowed to happen then the US would have been just as responsible for this crime against humanity as the south was. 4 million black people in slavery is not a “bargaining” chip…they are human and deserved to be freed at any cost.

4. The North Was Just As Racist As the South

This is obviously false as the North had abolished slavery and THE SOUTH HAD NOT. Sure, individual Northerners may have been as racist as any given individual Southerner but the North DID something about slavery by abolishing it and challenging it and by allowing an abolitionist movement to flourish, even if there was violence against it at times. This was impossible in the south because of institutionalized racism. The North was a society with many racists in it, but the South was a society that COULD NOT EXIST as it did without racism as a foundation.

5. Blacks were “happier” under slavery:

I am not even going to dignify this un-intellectual racist bilge with a response. If you truly believe this then you need to take yourself out of the gene pool, ASAP, and spare future generations of humanity your genetic lineage’s stupidity

6. The South Was Attacked First

No. The South had spent 100 years manipulating the political process to preserve its own perverse racist economic and cultural system and when Lincoln was elected on a weak abolitionist platform they took this as an “attack” and like the ultimate sore losers choose to give up on democracy in order to create their own quasi-feudal republic. They occupied US fortresses and threatened violence against the democratically elected Federal government. They fired upon a US base in US territory. If this is “Northern Aggression” then the democratic republican nature of the Constitution itself was “violence” against the southern cause.

***

Just some thoughts. If you disagree with me on any of these points see the response to argument 5.

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Philosophy

A Thought on Sentience (Contra Veganism)

Is that REALLY all that matters?

Is that REALLY all that matters?

I have been debating some radical vegans lately and I have noticed that many of their arguments depend upon assumptions about sentience and its agency i.e. how sentient beings should behave towards other sentient, or supposedly sentient, lifeforms. First, sentience is only ever defined by vegans in a way that bolsters their arguments or makes their moral beliefs seems inevitable Secondly, sentience as a value is taken as an a priori fact and is never really explored beyond just “sentient life is superior to non-sentient life”.

This seems strange to me coming from a supposedly life affirming and philosophy. if sentience is the standard by which we judge the value of life and human beings are expected to reject the exploitation of other sentient beings, then why do other sentient beings not need to change their behavior towards other sentient beings? By saying this is a human prerogative are we not saying that humans have a sentient agency beyond other sentient beings? Are humans to deny their evolutionary heritage but other animals are not? and if not why not? because they can’t, in which case there sentience is not on par with humanity, or they should not be expected to in which case humans are held to arbitrarily higher standard than other sentient beings. Just some ideas that I think I will explore further with time and more thought.

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