Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thank you for reading.

I hope you've enjoyed the Wallace Stevens poems I've been posting this month; because you're going to see a lot more of his poetry in the next two months.

Starting tomorrow, I'll be posting Stevens's long poem, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, and following that up with another of his longer poems, The Man With the Blue Guitar. Each one will be posted over a month, and will be the only thing I post that month: so that the month's archive will be an archive of the complete poem, broken into installments.

Because I want the poems to appear in the archives in proper order, I'll be posting them backwards; so that the first part of NTaSF that will appear, tomorrow, is his Coda. That might be confusing to some readers, but I don't think it really hurts the experience.

In the old days before the Internet, TV, radio, or even daily newspapers, a reader might have time, leisure, and interest to read a long poem from start to finish in one go, like a novel; and it made sense for poets to write long poems like that. But today the reader is different; with so much else to do, and so much competition for his attention, he's less likely to engage with a poem that way, or to like the result if he tries it that way. That's my theory, anyway, and that's the type of reader I wrote "Penny; or, Penny's Hat" for: it's not designed to be read in sequence, but to be dipped into at any time, at any place. One can read any part without having to read and remember what went before; it can be savoured over a period of years, if the reader wants.

I see a similar structure to Stevens's poems -- any part can be read on its own, without having to read all the others -- and it's one reason I'd consider them the first modern long poems (I don't like to say 'epic', because that connotes a story, and that is precisely what they are not.) Trying to read one start to finish would result only in frustration or boredom (or boredom from frustration). There are other copies of Blue Guitar on the web, but they all present the poem as one uninterrupted piece; I tried to read one, but (for the reasons I've said) I didn't even finish it.

I hope that presenting the poems this way -- as one monthly archive, but broken down into individual posts -- provides a better way to read them, and they'll be read (and appreciated) more in consequence.

Since I'll be posting nothing else but those poems for the next two months, this is my last chance to tell you about my National Poetry Month project. I want to make April a sort of magazine of less familiar, contemporary poets. I've been approaching the poets I know on usenet; but here I'd like to make an appeal to blogger poets as well. I'd urge every reader with a blog to submit a poem for inclusion. It can be either a new one or one you've already published on your blog; I'll be happy to publish them all (subject to editorial discretion). I'll also ask you to give me your name (either real name or the name you use for your blog), where you're from (since I've been getting a response from around the world, I'd like to highlight that), and a url (the default I'll use will be the one to your blog). I can't pay anything, but it will be a way to advertise your blog, to attract more readers to your own work.

I hope you decide to participate in April, and, in the interim, I hope that you enjoy reading Stevens's two masterpieces.

The Dwarf / Wallace Stevens

The Dwarf

Now it is September and the web is woven.
The web is woven and you have to wear it.

The winter is made and you have to bear it,
The winter web, the winter woven, wind and wind,

For all the thoughts of summer that go with it,
In the mind, pupa of straw, moppet of rags.

It is the mind that was woven, the mind that was jerked
And tufted in straggling thunder and shattered sun.

It is all you are, the final dwarf of you,
That is woven and woven and waiting to be worn,

Neither as mask nor as garment but as a being,
Torn from insipid summer, for the mirror of cold,

Sitting beside your lamp, for the citron to nibble
And coffee dribble . . . Frost is in the stubble.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), 1937
from Parts of a World, 1942

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wallace Stevens biography

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Motive for Metaphor / Wallace Stevens

The Motive for Metaphor

You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.

In the same way, you were happy in spring,
With the half colors of quarter-things,
The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds,
The single bird, the obscure moon --

The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,

Desiring the exhilarations of changes:
The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being,

The ruddy temper, the hammer
Of red and blue, the hard sound --
Steel against intimation -- the sharp flash,
The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1943
from Transport to Summer, 1947

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Friday, January 29, 2010

United Dames of America / Wallace Stevens

United Dames of America

Je tache, en restant exact, d'être poète.
                            - JULES RENARD

There are not leaves enough to cover the face
It wears. This is the way the orator spoke:
"The mass is nothing. The number of men in a mass
Of men is nothing. The mass is no greater than

The singular man in a mass. Masses produce
Each one its paradigm." There are not leaves
Enough to hide away the face of the man
Of this dead mass and that. The wind might fill

With faces as with leaves, be gusty with mouths,
And with mouths crying and crying day by day.
Could all these be ourselves, sounding ourselves,
Our faces circling round a central face

And then nowhere again, away and away?
Yet one face keeps returning (never the one),
The face of the man of the mass, never the face
That hermit on reef sable would have seen,

Never the naked politician taught
By the wise. There are not enough leaves to crown,
To cover, to crown, to cover -- let it go --
The actor that will at last declaim our end.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1937
from Parts of a World, 1942

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wallace Stevens biography

Thursday, January 28, 2010

As at a Theatre / Wallace Stevens

As at a Theatre

Another sunlight might make another world,
Green, more or less, in green and blue in blue,
Like taste distasting the first fruit of a vine,
Like an eye too young to grapple its primitive,
Like the artifice of a new reality,
Like the chromatic calendar of time to come.

It might be the candle of another being,
Ragged in unkempt perceptions, that stands
And meditates an image of itself,
Studies and shapes a tallowy image, swarmed
With slight, prismatic reeks not recollected,
A bubble without a wall on which to hang.

The curtains, when pulled, might show another whole,
An azure outre-terre, oranged and rosed,
At the elbow of Copernicus, a sphere,
A universe without life's limp and lack,
Philosopher's end . . . What difference would it make,
So long as the mind, for once, fulfilled itself?

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1950
From Collected Poems, 1954

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Men Made Out of Words / Wallace Stevens

Men Made Out of Words

What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human revery or poem of death?

Castratos of moon-mash -- Life consists
Of propositions about life. The human

Revery is a solitude, in which
We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,

By the terrible incantations of defeats
And by the fear that defeats and dreams are one.

The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1946
from Transport to Summer, 1947

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wallace Stevens biography

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In the Garden / George J. Dance

In the Garden

First rose of spring
blooms in the garden,
where my lady lingers.

George J. Dance

photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 
[Public Domain]

Creative Commons License
[In the Garden by George Dance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License]

God is Good. It is a Beautiful Night. /
Wallace Stevens

God is Good. It is a Beautiful Night.

Look round, brown moon, brown bird, as you rise to fly,
Look round at the head and zither
On the ground.

Look round you as you start to rise, brown moon,
At the book and shoe, the rotted rose
At the door.

This was the place to which you came last night,
Flew close to, flew without rising away.
Now, again,

In your light the head is speaking. It reads the book.
It becomes a scholar again, seeking celestial

Picking thin music on the rustiest string,
Squeezing the reddest fragrance from the stump
Of summer.

The reddest fragrance falls from your fiery wings.
The song of the great space of your age pierces
The fresh night.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1942
from Transport to Summer, 1947

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion /
Wallace Stevens

Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion

Oh, that this lashing wind was something more
Than the spirit of Ludwig Richter . . .

The rain is pouring down. It is July.
There is lightning and the thickest thunder.

It is a spectacle. Scene 10 becomes 11,
in Series X, Act IV, et cetera.

People fall out of windows, trees tumble down,
Summer is changed to winter, the young grow old,

The air is full of children, statues, roofs
And snow. The theater is spinning round,

Colliding with deaf-mute churches and optical trains.
The most massive sopranos are signing songs of scales.

And Ludwig Richter, turbulent Schlemiel,
Has lost the whole in which he was contained,

Knows desire without an object of desire,
All mind and violence and nothing felt.

He knows he has nothing more to think about.
Like the wind that lashes everything at once.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1945
from Transport to Summer, 1947

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

L2 - Ludwig Richter:

Wallace Stevens biography

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Large Red Man Reading / Wallace Stevens

Large Red Man Reading

There were ghosts that returned to earth to hear his phrases,
As he sat there reading, aloud, the great blue tabulae.
They were those from the wilderness of stars that had expected more.

There were those that returned to hear him read from the poem of life,
Of the pans above the stove, the pots on the table, the tulips among them.
They were those that would have wept to step barefoot into reality,

That would have wept and been happy, have shivered in the frost
And cried out to feel it again, have run fingers over leaves
And against the most coiled thorn, have seized on what was ugly

And laughed, as he sat there reading, from out of the purple tabulae,
The outlines of being and its expressings, the syllables of its law:
Poesis, poesis, the literal characters, the vatic lines,

Which in those ears and in those thin, those spended hearts,
Took on color, took on shape and the size of things as they are
And spoke the feeling for them, which was what they had lacked.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1948
from The Auroras of Autumn, 1950

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wallace Stevens biography

Poem with Rhythms / Wallace Stevens

Poem with Rhythms

The hand between the candle and the wall
Grows large on the wall.

The mind between this light or that and space,
(This man in a room with an image of the world,
That woman waiting for the man she loves,)
Grows large against space:

There the man sees the image clearly at last.
There the woman receives her lover into her heart,
And weeps on his breast, though he never comes.

It must be that the hand
Has a will to grow larger on the wall,
To grow larger and heavier and stronger than
The wall; and that the mind
Turns to its own figurations and declares,
"This image, this love, I compose myself
Of these. Of these I come forth outwardly.
In these, I wear a vital cleanliness,
Not as in air, bright-blue-resembling air,
But as in the powerful mirror of my wish and will."

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1941
from Parts of a World, 1942

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wallace Stevens biography

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Bed of Old John Zeller / Wallace Stevens

The Bed of Old John Zeller

This structure of ideas, these ghostly sequences
Of the mind, result only in disaster. It follows,
Casual poet, that to add your own disorder to disaster

Makes more of it. It is easy to wish for another structure
Of ideas and to say as usual that there must be
Other ghostly sequences and, it would be, luminous

Sequences, thought of among spheres in the old peak of night:
This is the habit of wishing, as if one's grandfather lay
In one's heart and wished as he had always wished, unable

To sleep in that bed for its disorder, talking of ghostly
Sequences that would be sleep and ting-tang tossing, so that
He might slowly forget. It is more difficult to evade

That habit of wishing and to accept the structure
Of things as the structure of ideas. It was the structure
Of things at least that was thought of in the old peak of night.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1944
from Transport to Summer, 1947

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Call for Submissions

I've been thinking about where I want to take  The Penny Blog now that I've finished posting "Penny." What I'd like to do is to publish poetry on it; but not all mine.

I've started publishing more obscure, less-web-accessible poetry by Wallace Stevens, preparatory to putting up his "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" in February and "The Man With the Blue Guitar" in March. (I posted Supreme Fiction onto usenet last April as my National Poetry month [NaPoMo] project, and I plan to do the same with Blue Guitar this April.)

But I'd like to get more of a variety than that. So after taking care of Stevens I'll be looking at other hard-to-find-on-line favorites of mine in the public domain. As well (and here's the big news):

I'd be interested in publishing poems by other internet poets, if others want to submit them. I can't and won't pay anything, but it will give you a new venue, and something else to put on the cv. (In turn, having  The Penny Blog on some cv's can only help increase its profile.) And, of course, you will retain copyright; all you're giving me is a one-time usage.

For my part, I reserve the right to be selective; and only publish the poems I think are good enough to be there with the public-domain reprints. But that doesn't mean I want only one type; I'd like as much variety as possible.

If you're interested, please mail your poem(s) to

If any come in quickly, I'll consider putting them on now in January -- February and March are reserved for Stevens' two long efforts only -- but I'm thinking the best thing for me to do is to roll out all the new poems over the month of April, as this year's NaPoMo project.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Reader / Wallace Stevens

The Reader

All night I sat reading a book,
Sat reading as if in a book
Of sombre pages.

It was autumn and falling stars
Covered the shrivelled forms
Crouched in the moonlight.

No lamp was burning as I read,
A voice was mumbling, "Everything
Falls back to coldness,

Even the musky muscadines,
The melons, the vermilion pears
Of the leafless garden."

The sombre pages bore no print
Except the trace of burning stars
In the frosty heaven.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1935
from Ideas of Order, 1935

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Puella Parvula / Wallace Stevens

Puella Parvula

Every thread of summer is at last unwoven.
By one caterpillar is great Africa devoured,
And Gibraltar is dissolved like spit in the wind.

But over the wind, over the legends of its roaring,
The elephant on the roof and its elephantine blaring,
The bloody lion in the yard at night or ready to spring

From the clouds in the midst of trembling trees
Making a great gnashing, over the water wallows
Of a vacant sea declaiming with wide throat,

Over all these the mighty imagination triumphs
Like a trumpet, and says in this season of memory,
When the leaves fall like things mournful of the past,

Keep quiet in the heart, O wild bitch. O mind
Gone wild, be what he tells you to be: Puella. 
Write pax across the window pane. And then

Be still. The summarium in excelsis begins . . .
Flame, sound, fury composed . . . Hear what he says,
The dauntless master, as he starts the human tale.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)1949
from The Auroras of Autumn, 1950

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wallace Stevens biography

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Introducing our newest contributor: Wallace Stevens

I've been thinking about what I'm going to use this blog for. On the one hand, its original goal -- to be a place for writing and archiving "Betty" on the net -- is completed. On the other, its new purpose -- being used to promote "Betty" to a wider readership -- means that I have to continue writing in it, so it will continue to show up in search engines.

Another thing I'd been thinking about, to promote the poem, was posting the entirety of "Betty" to usenet over the course of National Poetry Month (April). I did a similar thing last year with Wallace Stevens' "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction", and had been planning to follow up this April with Stevens' "The Man With the Blue Guitar". (I chose Stevens because, as he died in 1955, his poems are now in the public domain in Canada.)

Then "Betty" came along, and I thought of taking her to usenet for NaPo instead. In the end, I decided not to; I'd rather wait for a year, when with luck there'll be more to offer readers. (One thing I'd like to have developed is an interactive CD of the poem, in which readers can click on each colour name in the poem and actually see the colour on their monitor. Just a pipe dream, but who knows? Speaking of who knows, "Betty" could even be in book form in a year.) So Betty will have to wait for now, while Wallace and I will go to NaPo with the Blue Guitar instead. (I will, though, be adding a link to the blog as a sig line to those posts.)

But that in turn got me thinking: why can't I post "The Man with the Blue Guitar" here as well? Preferably in March, so that it will all be archived and ready for usenet posting in April. Then, I thought, why not archive "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" here as well? Doing both would give me quite a lot to post over the next couple of months.

So that's what I'll be doing. I'll be posting "Supreme Fiction" over February, and "Blue Guitar" in March. Like "Betty," each will be posted over the course of a month, and nothing else -- so that the blog archive for that month will be the complete poem. Also like "Betty," both will be posted in reverse order (so that when read in the archives, they'll appear in proper order).

In the next ten days, I plan to introduce readers unfamiliar with Mr. Stevens to his work by posting a couple of his shorter poems -- not the well-known and easily-found-on-the-web ones like "The Emperor of Ice Cream," "Sunday Morning," or "Peter Quince at the Clavier," but more obscure ones that I particularly like.

I hope you enjoy that new approach for the blog.

For more information on Wallace Stevens, please read this biography from the Academy of American Poets:

or this one from the Poetry Foundation:

or this one, from Penny's Poetry Pages:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Betty gets some good reviews

I'm happy to report that all of the comments on Betty to date, on both the blog and usenet, have been positive. On rec.arts.poems, longtime usenet poet ray heinrich (one of the original inspirers of the work) said of it, "What a list of colours! Gonna save this for itself". Also on RAP, quirky Christian poet/singer/videographer Christian Knight pronounced it "Quite a catalogue."

Over on us.arts.poetry, David George called Betty "interesting and fun ... actually classic [if you can call it that] postminimalism... "

Here on the blog, anti-poet Obsidian Eagle left some kind words: "You've compiled quite an extensive compendium of colour and I must say I'm impressed. A masterful 'Non-Poem' if ever I encountered one. My black (just plain black) hat goes off to you and I shall return frequently to learn more colour names."

Last but not least, let's not forget Will Dockery, the Poeta Do Shadowville (as his upcoming CD puts it). During the writing, Will was both helpful (he suggested the Betty name) and supportive. On alt.arts.poetry.comments, he's called Betty "pretty amazing work" and "one Hell of a poem." Will also wrote of Betty on alt.arts.poetry: "Not bad, man... you took a very crappy five line piece of nothing and made an epic poem out of it..."

It appears, then, that those who meet Betty tend to like her. All I need now is to find ways to introduce more people to her.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How do you handle a problem like Betty?

Lest the title be misunderstood, I should start by saying it's meant as a reference to the late great Richard Rodgers. "Betty" itself is not a problem. I'm quite happy with the poem (or non-poem) that has been written, annotated, and blogged; what I wanted to do I did. As a bonus, all of the reactions from readers have so far been quite positive.

Now that that's done, though, it just leads to the actual problem: How do I get readers to look at it? It may be the Best. Poem (or Non-Poem). Ever. -- but that doesn't mean much if almost no one has heard of it, much less seen it. So I have to find ways to attract other potential readers.

My first idea was to get The Betty Blog 'monetized' (ie, to start carrying google ads), so that it would start appearing on google's web and blog search engines. That was accomplished as well, though so far it's been of little help. I noticed today that the blog now has 278 'page impressions', which is pitiful. (In contrast, the articles I've written and posted since my last post here have picked up more than 1,600).

Meanwhile, the blog has dropped way down in Web search, and I can't even find it any more in Blog search. I think the problem there is merely that I didn't write anything here for 10 days. So I am going to have to write more here -- one of my reasons for blogging this column.

The other reason for the column, of course, is to ask my readers for other ideas to publicize the blog. So far all I've done, aside from the search engine bit, is to put announcements on my usenet and Google poetry groups and in my one social networking site, The Artists Project.

I've been considering joining other social networking sites, but I'm a bit hesitant. I still remember, a year or so ago, when about half my co.'s workforce had suddenly gone onto facebook; it was all they talked about and seemingly all they did. I'm hesitant about getting into anything high-intensity like that.

Any other ideas, please let me know. I'm open to all suggestions.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Final(?) Line Count: 3,086

I managed to complete a line count this morning: Not an easy task, as (given my rudimentary knowledge of things cyber) it means manually counting each line. However, it's done.

The bottom line: "Betty" comes in at 3,086 lines.

Actually, there were 3,085 lines; but I added one more during the count. I expect to add a few others now and then, as I find new, neat colours that just have to go in. For example, the other day I found a page of Renaissance colours with a lot of interesting ones: Dead Spaniard, Dying Ape, Elephant's Breath, Beggar's Gray and Gentleman's Gray among others. I'll most likely be adding some of those later, if I can find hex values (or colour samples, from which I can generate hex values using Colorzilla). All of the colours mentioned in the poem now have hex values listed in the Appendix, and I'd like to keep it that way.

For those who enjoy trivia, here are the line counts for each strophe:

S1 (A) = 162 lines
S2 (B) = 251
S3 (C) = 318.5
S4 (D) = 138.5
S5 (E) = 079
S6 (F) = 119
S7 (G) = 160
S8 (H) = 095
S9 (I) = 068
S10(J) = 040
S11(K) = 038
S12(L) = 116
S13(M) = 211
S14(N) = 075
S15(O) = 093
S16(P) = 246
S17(Q) = 015
S18(R) = 184
S19(S) = 317
S20(T) = 137
S21(U) = 015
S22(V) = 083.5
S23(W) = 097.5
S24(X) = 001.5
S25(Y) = 025.5
S26(Z) = 018

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Betty" wraps up at over 3,000 lines

As of January 2, "Betty" has topped 3,000 lines.

As the song goes, what a long, strange trip it's been. My first draft of "Betty" appeared Nov. 24, as an 11-line parody of a bad poet's bad poem. That inspired Ray Heinrich to do his own parody, which (after reformatting) clocked in at 70 lines. That in turn inspired me, and I was off combing the web for more colours, finding and incorporating (among other sites) Wikipedia's colour list and the X11 list. (References are in the "Acknowledgements" article.) By Nov. 27 the poem was up to to 168 lines.

Early in December I discovered David Mundie's 1995 Dictionary of Color, which led me to Jaffer's MIT site and John Foster's 2007 update, and the poem exploded. I also began "Betty's Appendix," which gives the RGB values in hexadecimal form for all the colours mentioned.

By Dec. 10, the line count was up to 1,488, too big for usenet, so I began "The Betty Blog" as a place to post the work. By Dec. 20 it had reached 1,789. By Dec. 23, when "Betty" was finally blogged, it was up to 1,907, and I was still searching for more colours, hoping to get it over 2,000 by New Year's.

On Christmas Eve I found Chirag Mehta's "Name that Colour" website. That in turn brought me to the Resene site. Resene is a paint company based in New Zealand (which explains the Maori-language colour names), which displays its entire catalog, complete with hex values, on line.

Inspired even more by that coup, I searched a few other paint companies and related sites like Pantone. Hoever, none of them gave hex values, -- and by that point I wanted hex values in the Appendix for all the colours -- which meant they weren't much use to me. By a stroke of luck, though, I discovered an amazing tool, Colorzilla: a free add-on to Mozilla's Firefox browser that will give the numerical values for the colour of any part of the screen. That made it possible to use specialty sites like California Paint's "Heritage Colours of America" collection.

It also helped that I'd been given the week off between Christmas and New Year's. Aside from Christmas Day, which traditionally goes to the extended family, the entire week was spent in a frantic effort to get Betty up to the maximum number of lines possible.

Not that quantity was the only consideration. I'd made a decision, early on, that "Betty" had to be readable: it had to sound like a poem, not like reading a dictionary. Every line had to be interesting. For that reason I decided to not use any colour names starting with "dark," "light," "bright," "pale," etc. The one exception I made was "deep": first because the dictionaries had given me some interesting variants (Deep Water, Deep Reverie, Deep Space); second, because I really wanted to get a Deep Purple reference in there.

Finally, on New Year's Eve, I called a halt to the process, and did a new line count. "Betty" had reached an amazing 2,898 lines! That meant one more on-line scramble over the weekend, which resulted in adding roughly 125 lines more.

I've still to do a final line count. There are also one or two colours I'd like to get in (and some lines I'm still not happy with), so this "final" may not be the actual final. However, as of Jan. 3 "Betty" is essentially done.

I hope you enjoy the result.