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When students only have read a few poems, in exclusively academic contexts, they often approach poetry with what the li...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Formative (8): Aphorisms & Blake

I created my own avant-garde movement in high school. It was called "schmoe." I wrote the "the proverbs of schmoe" around this time, inspired by Blake's "Proverbs of Hell." Blake was a big influence on me. Of course, I was the only member of this movement, which I named by picking a random word from a slang dictionary. (Being a West Coast guy, the Yiddish word was not in my vocabulary.) The proverbs of schmoe is my great, lost work. It is great because it is lost: if I had it, I would have to deal with its obvious imperfections. Schmoe, after all, means idiot.

My imagination was always aphoristic, tending toward apodictic concision. Many years later I would teach courses on the aphorism. I get impatient with people who write and write and never get around to the important things. With the aphorism, you formulate the important idea first, and then if you want you can explain it, or not.

Blake was attractive to me because of his heterodox religious sensibility and his invention of free verse before Whitman. His proverbs come from his greatest work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Since Blake admired Milton, I also read PL.

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