Smells Like American Poetry

I’m so ugly, that’s okay
‘Cause so are you.

“Lithium.” Kurt Cobain


The married couple sleep . . .
The sisters sleep . . .
The men sleep . . .
And the mother . . . .

The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps . . . the runaway son
The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he
And the murder’d person, how does he sleep?

The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all

“The Sleepers.” W.W.


I rounded out the semester with Emily Dickinson, a delightful (even if overused) pairing with Whitman. I tried explaining to my students the different ways of critiquing poetry. They were all surprisingly fine with a formalist approach but couldn’t wrangle New Criticism. It’s usually the other way around.

Student: “I think with writers like Poe and Dickinson, it’s just too difficult to separate how they lived from how they wrote.”
Me: “And how they died? Does that influence your reading of Poe or–for next semester–say, Plath?”
Student: [adamantly] “Ho, yes. Especially when they commit suicide.”
Me: “So how do you listen to Nirvana?”
Student: “Well, I don’t really. But, yeah. I hear ‘self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head’ when I hear ‘Lithium.'”
Me: [damned impressed that he referenced “Lithium” instead of “Teen Spirit”] “So, how does that work for someone like me? I mean, I remember Cobain as ‘alive.’ I watched him on MTV. I remember when he died.”

They were all disconcertingly visibly stunned at this revelation. I was not about to tell them that I remembered when John Lennon died. Or (shite) Elvis.

Ah, death. Death and sleep. The two great levelers, Walt would say.

My students were able to manage New Criticism for Bradstreet and Wigglesworth and even Wheatly to some extent; but Dickinson, like Cobain, was more famous for her life (and his death) than they could get past.

Then I thought about Al.

I’m started a new course tonight. I mean–it’s a new set of students, I’ve taught the course before. Just before they finished the course prior, I asked them what they wanted to take on in the next phase. One of the students wanted to know if we could cover more about Thelema; but another “just [has] a bad feeling about Crowley.”

Yea, yea. He was a shitfucker–and I mean that literally–but can we even begin to apply something like New Critical approaches to the study of Thelema? I can if I accept that it was an inspired work, meaning it came from Aiwass and not “just” Al. I have to say “just” since I believe our HGA is also part of our own psyche. If our higher-self elevates our work to greatness (I’m not claiming that Crowley’s oeuvre is “great,” it just a statement for argument’s sake), does our baser-self not degrade our work? Can we approach Thelemic texts and rites without thinking about Crowley’s proclivities? Admittedly, some folks find his lifestyle revolutionary and subversively enthralling. Some, I acknowledge, just find Crowley gross.

How, as a teacher, do I remain objective? I mean, I have fairly strong feelings about the whole affair. And the more I learn, the stronger my feelings become.

It’s why I don’t teach Hemingway.

Papa and The Beast, hmmm.

As ever, I’ll let you know how it goes.

B, Q, and, maybe, 93