Poor Claudia published poetry, prose and conversations online and in print from 2009 to 2018.

Anthony Madrid

In the Sixth Month, Wu Year of the Horse, Fire Broke Out

  • {Medicinal downtime} vs {letting the day get away from you}
  • {Playing guitar} vs {practicing guitar}
  • The phrase “nothing there for me”
  • {Respecting Petrarch} vs {merely admiring him}
  • The “pure lyric” is neither personal nor impersonal
  • When people want to write poetry at sixteen, it is hardly ever because they have read poetry and want to imitate what they like. So what do they want?
  • The best blurb I ever read
  • The Greeks thought: comedy; tragedy; satyr play. We think: funny; intense; nonsense.
  • A good question for anybody who has three or four thousand books in their apartment
  • It’s simply delicious / How you did the dishes

{Medicinal downtime} vs {letting the day get away from you}

The usual mistake lies in thinking you’re only allowed downtime when you’re good for nothing else. But downtime has no medicinal effect if there is no squandering involved. Medicinal downtime is not about rest; it is about waste. Salubrious waste.

On the other hand, the disciplined artist is probably better off with no conscious recognition of the above. Because: once the squander impulse is granted full rights of citizenship, it is very apt to run for Mayor. And get elected.

{Playing guitar} vs {practicing guitar}

The word practicing should be reserved for guitar activities wherein the candidate is actually trying to improve. Playing is just playing; practicing is {playing + trying to improve}.

It is always interesting to watch the self-con at work, though. Observe how much we want any and all playing to be a form of practicing, how fascinated we are with the idea of effortless improvement. Every time we improve without effort, there’s a part of us that says, “Ah-hah! so you see, there is no need for effort....”

The phrase “nothing there for me”

. . . is the most useful and honest critical phrase I know. It allows what should be allowed, viz., that one’s tastes are limited—sometimes fatally. And it also gets it right about a key characteristic of the scene of judgment: that the work of art is not usually bad to the person who doesn’t like it. Rather, it is nothing; it makes no impression; it lacks the A-B-C-D-E-F-G that I happen to be looking for....

{Respecting Petrarch} vs {merely admiring him}

No one doubts that Petrarch’s sonnets and canzoni are excellent writing. But almost everyone smiles pityingly at the overall project. Hundreds of unhappy, imploring poems to an Unattainable Love Object? We all know what that is. Stunted growth.

Except it’s not. Petrarch was looking into the black hole at the center of the galaxy: the fact that love cannot make you whole. And he lets himself feel it. He puts on no armor; he has no resistance. He lets the pain and the pain alone tighten all his strings, and then out comes the music. This took strength.

The “pure lyric” is neither personal nor impersonal

If a pure lyric were truly personal (with regard to the poet), nobody else could use it; people would just have to stand back and watch. The fact that people can use it to spice up their self-dramatizations, or even use it as an actual message—this shows the pure lyric is not personal-to-the-poet.

Yet, if the pure lyric were impersonal (with regard to the poet), it could never have served as an outburst or a message at the time it was made. And if that were so, the “material” would never have been put into words in the first place, because no one produces outbursts and messages without pursuing private ends. This shows the pure lyric is never impersonal.

It is never personal, and it is never impersonal. If it is either of those things, it is not a pure lyric.

When people want to write poetry at sixteen, it is hardly ever because they have read poetry and want to imitate what they like. So what do they want?

If one could answer this question, one would be a Buddha. The question goes straight to the heart of the human drive to savor and preserve Precious Speech.

Question. When it comes to poetry, do we need a model? or is the will-to-treasurable-speech simply inevitable?

I remember La Rochefoucauld: Il y a des gens qui n’auroient jamais été amoureux, s’ils n’avoient jamais entendu parler de l’amour. (“Some people would never have fallen in love if they had never heard of love.”) That rings true about sexual love, but that same structure of thought does not seem correct, apropos of poetry.

But how can this be true? How can poetry be more essential than sex? Yet, it is.

The best blurb I ever read

Quote: Huang Tingqian, the Song Dynasty poet, said of [Tao Qian]: “When you’ve just come of age, reading these poems seems like gnawing on withered wood. But reading them after long experience in the world, it seems the decisions of your life were all made in ignorance.”_

For literally twenty years I have checked in with Tao Qian’s poems every so often, to see if I had grown up or not. Then, two months ago, I found a copy of William Acker’s 1952 translation T’ao the Hermit. I’d read five different translations before this one, but only now can I finally say all my life’s decisions were made in ignorance.

The Greeks thought: comedy; tragedy; satyr play. We think: funny; intense; nonsense.

. . . but, either way, the diagram satisfies. This, even though it’s clearly asymmetrical: “nonsense” and “funny” being obviously more closely allied to each other than either is to “intense.” Yet the impulse to tamper with the diagram is very small.

I could venture an addition, though. Something to balance the serious side of the arrangement. Go: {funny/nonsense} + {intense, informative}.

Or put it this way: comedy, drama, insanity, documentary . . . .

A good question for anybody who has three or four thousand books in their apartment

What is the most corrupting book you have ever read? Not “Which of those books is most likely to corrupt others?” but rather, “Which book has in fact done the most to corrupt you?” Your style, your personal choices.

Of course, it’s useless to ask this question of people who don’t think they ever do anything wrong—i.e. nineteen out of twenty people.

As for my own answer to the question, that’s easy. Vladimir Nabokov’s Strong Opinions.

It’s simply delicious / How you did the dishes

I’ve been troubled lately with how we seem to expect Supreme Wisdom to speak to us in a rude manner. The idea, I suppose, is that our vanity needs to be checked. But it is remarkable that we calmly accept that Supreme Wisdom would find no better means of checking our vanity than by spanking it. Jesus, Socrates, Confucius—they all do this. They toy with interlocutors. They “score points.” They throw down annihilating epigrams. They secure for themselves, over and over, the last word. They are quite rude.

Have you ever read the Middle English poem “Pearl”—? Perfect example. In that poem, a bereaved father meets his dead daughter in a dream vision. She died before she was two, and so died in a state of innocence, and is consequently now a Bride of Christ. The father marvels that she should rank so high in Paradise, given that she never did anything, and she proceeds to schoolmarm him disdainfully, regarding the difference between God’s justice and man’s. She is rude as hell. And he laps it up, grateful to be put in his place by an angel.

Anthony Madrid

Anthony Madrid lives in Chicago. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2013, B O D Y, Boston Review, Fence, Gulf Coast, Lana Turner, LIT, Poetry, and Volt. His first book is called I am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (Canarium Books, 2012).