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American Bards & The London Reviewer: A Satire

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After twelve years of composition American Bards & The London Reviewer: A Satire has been published. The 'poem' was born on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, specifically within the environs of Villa Cimbrone, while brooding upon the Roses of Ravello and the ravishing Neapolitan horizon; it was finished most recently in The Brushy Mountains of North Carolina. It is an iconoclastic work, but a necessary one, given the state of modern culture. I have excerpted the Introductory Essay below, which gives one a thorough sense of the Satire.

Introductory Essay

This work is rooted in my feeling of alienation from the prevailing poetic and artistic traditions of the 20th and the 21st centuries. It seems that many artists from these eras are concerned with the rebellion from form, the defense of form, innovation for innovation's sake, multiculturalism, bohemianism, genderism, and so on and so forth, but that very few are interested in aesthetic creation. Art that serves the sublime idea of beauty is devalued as traditional, unoriginal, and unimportant. The noble Greek concept of To Kalon -- 'The Beautiful' -- has been relegated to an ancient time, not a principle praised in modern culture.

Furthermore, I believe that this manuscript, meticulously crafted over twelve years, transcends the label of a poem and ascends into the realm of a 'cultural document.' In my estimation, this holds true even if one comes to disagree with the sentiments expressed herein, for I have managed to marry literature with literary criticism and scholarship with artistry. It will be left to posterity, of course, to determine whether I have done this successfully or not, but to the best of my knowledge the amalgamation of such disparate elements into one manuscript is completely novel.

Specifically, I satirize T.S. Eliot (high-culture), Charles Bukowski (low-culture), Allen Ginsberg (counter-culture) and Frank O'Hara (avant-garde culture). Each poet was carefully chosen, not only for their individual poetry, but also for what each writer has come to symbolize within the culture at large. T.S. Eliot, the most prominent poet of the Modernist movement, reacted against many of the Romantic and Aesthetic writers with whom I relate. Eliot's depressive, Anglophilic, Anglican leanings could not be further from my own sentiments, and his dissonant, minimalist style could not be further from my own operatic, evocative writing style. Eliot looks to London, and to England in general, for poetic sustenance, while I possess a bit of Delacroix's Romantic Orientalism, a Mediterranean wanderlust.

Where Eliot writes poetry when he is out of health, I write from joy, from passion, in between moments of ecstasy, tragedy and Dionysian dances. My Dionysus however is not the Dionysus of Woodstock, awash in urine and feces, stinking of marijuana, overcome by LSD, but rather the true God, as interpreted by Euripides, Nonnus, Antony, Michelangelo, Nietzsche, and Kazantzakis, not by Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, or Allen Ginsberg. My Dionysus is perfumed with fragrant incense, garlanded in exotic flowers, with the blood of grapes, the oil of olives, and the nectar of honey dripping down his flesh; he is grasping his thyrsus in one hand and his kylix in the other, dancing to the most exquisitely beautiful music alongside his panthers, leopards, and maenads; this is not the God distorted by the hippies of the 1960s and transformed into a plebeian caricature, a shabby farce, for my Dionysus is the beautiful God, the savage God, still alive, dancing to the timbrel, in all of his immense and immortal glory.

Charles Bukowski, the master of The Vulgar, the fêted nihilist, has become something of a cult phenomenon in modern culture. It seems that those who reject Eliot's style of poetry as priggish, esoteric, and frigid retreat into this type of poetry. It has become a haven for Hipsters, a type of sustenance, an ambrosia, for their sensibility. Some of Bukowski's critics find fault in his morals, or lack thereof, but this is not my objection, as I am closer to Walter Pater in my protestations than to Girolamo Savaronola, Marcus Tullius Cicero, or Cyril of Alexandria; it is not Bukowski's louche living that I find fault with, as much of my own poetry is decadent, but rather Bukowski's sense of aesthetics; his is a poetry devoid of any poetry.

Another tenet of Bukowski's aesthetic, or more accurately, anti-aesthetic, is a strong strain of nihilism. Now, like many other nihilists, I am sure that Bukowski and his modern lackeys would take umbrage at this label, as they prefer to title themselves 'Realists,' for they are merely portraying the world as it truly is: a place that is horrible, despicable, and filled with despair; they sneeringly dismiss any who object to their gloomy perspective as a callow naïf outfitted in rose-tinted glasses. But I would like to remind both Bukowski, and his legions of living descendants, that every Winter is followed by Spring, that abject despair has its counterpoint in effusive joy, and that for every lost love, there is renewed love.

Allen Ginsberg, although different from Bukowski in many ways, is similar in his anti-aesthetic pose. The form and style of the Ginsberg section within this satire differs from the other three sections. In the Ginsberg section, I have chosen just one single poem to satirize, his America, instead of a collection of fragments. Also, unlike the other three sections where I counter as myself, in this section I have morphed into a Beat/Dirty Realist/Hipster poet in both content and style for maximum comic and ironic effect; it is deliberately a bad poem. I have mirrored my nemesis and his modern acolytes in order to illuminate the absurdity of their verse.

The satire finishes with Frank O'Hara, the de facto poetic representative of The New York School/Abstract Expressionism, a movement that also adheres to the anti-aesthetic belief; the idea of striving for aesthetic beauty is considered passé to both O'Hara and his comrades, for they are more concerned with innovation than with beauty. O'Hara's constant allusions to these artists afford me a perfect opportunity to spar with their brand of aesthetics. In my view, O'Hara also partakes in the excesses of surrealism, which reduces much of his verse to randomly strewn together gibberish, as if words were placed into a satchel, shaken vigorously, and then thrown upon the page; this tendency is in stark contrast to the aesthetic surrealism one finds in the poetry of Andre Breton, specifically his lovely poem Free Union, one of the great triumphs of 20th century poetry. Additionally, O'Hara finds comfort in the New York milieu whereas I long for the environs of the Mediterranean.

I've discovered that when one criticizes Eliot and his ilk, one is often summarily dismissed as just another anti-form Beat proponent who doesn't have the intellectual depth, the emotional sensitivity, or the nuanced soul, to appreciate and admire Eliot's poetry. Now, when one dares to criticize Ginsberg, Bukowski, and other Beat writers for their lack of verbal beauty, their lack of poetic craft, one is immediately tagged as a neo-formalist, just another stuffed shirt academic, part of the cabal of tenured university professors, conservative readers, and private school English departments allied against the Beats, who don't comprehend the zeitgeist of the era. My response is -- I understand you -- and I reject you thoroughly and completely.

This 'poem' is not simply a rejection of ascendant cultural mores, but rather a cri de coeur for Romantic ideals. If this satire was merely a tirade, 'The Great No,' it would be nothing more than the work of a shrill curmudgeon, a ranting contrarian, and my intent is certainly not to wallow in iconoclasm. The question then becomes, what does a resurrection of Romanticism mean? Well, for one, a rise of poetry that is once again musical. Poetry, invented by the ancient Greeks, was originally sung to the lyre, where we derive the word 'lyric.' Much of this satire was written to the sonorous sounds of the Cretan lyra. So, when I compose something like 'An osprey flew over the sea-shimmering sea-spray/Careening past where the dreamy nymphs play,' or 'that ascends like a cresting crescendo of light' the musicality is directly drawn from the lyra. The intense internal rhyming that one will find within a single line is anathema to much of modern poetry, which often flaunts its absence of rhyme.

By writing and editing to the lyra and sometimes the bouzouki, both instruments blessed by Orpheus himself, my poetry effortlessly attains the Paterian 'double music.' One would have to return to Swinburne's majestic lines like, 'came flushed from the full-flushed wave' and 'Fearful fitful wings of the doves departing,' to find a comparison to the ravishing musicality of a single poetic line. What of metaphors soaring to the heights of Parnassus? What of similes simmering and seething with light? What of assonance, consonance and alliteration? Besides being musically inclined, the Romantic also possesses an idealistic world-view, which contrasts directly with the cynical, nihilistic writing of those whom I have chosen to satirize; the modern artist has fallen deeply in love with irony, wit, and sarcasm whereas I worship beauty, passion, and emotion. Maybe I am alone in my belief that pessimism is not tantamount to wisdom.

The Romantic transforms The Wasteland into The Land of Milk and Honey, Waiting for Godot becomes Godot and Juliet, and J. Alfred Prufrock miraculously (and thankfully) transmogrifies into Count Almasy. Nature, passion, love, emotion, experience, hero-worship, dreams, and wanderlust are embraced by the Romantic, among other things. The Romantic also shuns the idea of an 'impersonal poetry' as promulgated by T.S. Eliot, for the Romantic creates a very personal poetry; the Romantic does not flee from emotion, but rather works from emotion, in all of its multifarious manifestations, for poetry is a triumph of the individual spirit, the very blood of the soul.

The format of this satire is unique in that I have excerpted the actual verses of the writers mentioned in order to counter their work directly. In most cases, I follow the basic structure of my adversary in the ensuing stanza so as to illuminate the vast difference in both theme and style. This innovative form, this 'literary argument,' developed organically, the result of passion, not of reason. For example, when I was reading T.S. Eliot in the Villa Borghese, flanked by the gorgeous, glorious statues of Byron and Pushkin, and came across, 'No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; I had to restrain myself from shouting aloud, 'Yes! I am Prince Hamlet and was meant to be.'

It is my sincere hope that this satire not only inspires the individual reader, but also other artists working in diverse mediums; in my incessant dreams, my mad visions, I imagine that it sparks a neo-Romantic, neo-Aesthetic movement as did Walter Pater's famous conclusion in Studies in the History of the Renaissance. Time will tell, I suppose. Maybe I will be the only one marching to The Hot Gates to face The Barbarians. So be it. Maybe The Barbarians are too numerous, too powerful, too entrenched to defeat, but I still will be true to my sense of aesthetics, and stand firmly at Thermopylae, fighting in the shade, throwing my quixotic spear, even if 'in the end the Medes will go through.'

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-Pietros Maneos, The Wandering Poet