20th Century Poetry #18: T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. T. S. Eliot at tseliot.com, […]

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Blindness, War & History

(this essay was originally published in the Fall, 2014 issue of the Concho River Review. Since it is no longer available for purchase, I will post the essay here)  when you kill another honor him with your tears when the battle is won treat it as a wake —Tao Te Ching 31, tr. Red Pine   1. Blindness I often […]

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Advice to a Young Poet, from Ezra Pound

The late poet and translator W. S. Merwin, who died only last month at ninety-one, has left us a remarkable account of visiting an aging and imprisoned Ezra Pound back in 1949, when Merwin was just starting out. I was in Washington, D.C., at Easter, during one of my last years as a student. I was visiting a college friend […]

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Virginia Woolf Meets T. S. Eliot

From Virginia Woolf’s Diary on November 21, 1918: I was interrupted somewhere on this page by the arrival of Mr Eliot. Mr Eliot is well expressed by his name – a polished, cultivated, elaborate young American, talking so slow, that each word seems to have special finish allotted it. But beneath the surface it is fairly evident that he is […]

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T. S. Eliot & His Father

Here is a favorite bit from a youthful T. S. Eliot (he’s just turned thirty but that’s young to me now). After leaving America for England and abandoning the job at Harvard his family was expecting of him, he made an unfortunate marriage and started a literary life of day job, essays and reviews. He eventually had enough essays for […]

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The Poet Speaks #8: Patti Smith, Toni Morrison, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane: “I shall make every sacrifice toward that end”

As even “nerd culture” and all the rest just becomes another snobby fad and pop culture corner to hide in, Patti Smith suggests where the real “next” actually is, out of view completely:…when people ask me Who’s the new people?, well to me the new people are the unknown people. The new people that I embrace are the people that […]

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Is Shakespeare Just “Okay”?

Heresy of heresies perhaps, but is Shakespeare just “okay”? I love the idea of Shakespeare, and how enthusiastic actors get about him (Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey have both made wonderful documentaries about their affection for Richard III). I love reading about Shakespeare and imagining the life we know so little about, like those sixteen months that somehow gave us […]

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The State of Poetry … in 1993

The following essay was published in the New Criterion in February, 1993, and reflects a view of American poetry from at least the 1970s forward. It’s quite depressing to read this two decades later, since the status of poetry as a subculture can’t help but be worse than it was then, and worse in part because the technology noted as […]

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T. S. Eliot on Dante

Is there anything better than T. S. Eliot talking about his debt to Dante? Here is the majority of his famous essay “What Dante Means to Me” (hence my own “What Eliot Means to Me”), which can be found in his collection of essays, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings. The essay was originally presented as a speech given […]

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What Eliot Means to Me

(for Eliot’s essay “What Dante Means to Me,” go here) I. Late in life, T. S. Eliot hoped the essays of his that would last would be those “appreciations of individual authors,” saying he had written best “about writers who have influenced my own poetry.”[1] He had come a long way from the essays written in his youth, essays famously […]

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Silence in London

Just back from London, where the hugeness of space and history were hard to ignore. But the experience was always deepest in the smallest space, where something sacred, or just something simply old, could be apprehended intimately, in silence. So that it was not Westminster Abbey, despite its beauty as a space and the unnerving realization that one is walking by the actual tombs of early kings and queens, including Elizabeth I. It was not this, but Westminster’s cloister: And it was Westminster’s Chapter House, with its original 13th-century tile, 14th-century paintings on the wall, and nearby the oldest door in England, supposedly used by Edward the Confessor, c. 1050:   And it was, most of all, Westminster’s Pyx Chamber, also dating to shortly after 1066. It is hard to say why this room struck me, but I could have stayed there for days: It was also not the Tower of London, the only time where the idea of royalty truly stank of excess and arrogance and blood, especially at the exhibit of the crown jewels. It was not here, but nearby, at the church of All Hallows by the Tower, a place gutted during the Blitz, the damage revealing a c. 775 Saxon Arch from the earliest version of the church, as well as c. 200 Roman pavement in the crypt below, and of course, crypt chapels for silence: And it wasn’t even London, really, so much as it was a side-trip to Salisbury, […]

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