July 22, 2006

WEEKEND SPECIAL: DENNY DIMWIT WAXES POETIC


Introductory note: It is the editorial practice of the Goat Rope to reserve its weekend commentary for a regular distinguished guest.

This is none other than bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit. Dr. Dimwit generally uses this space to comment, not altogether favorably, on Goat Rope's content for the previous week.

It is our found hope that by sharing diverse viewpoints we will reduce the tragic polarization of our times and contribute to a climate of profound mutual respect, deep listening, and civil discourse.

THE DIMWIT DISPATCH

Crudawackapatootarini! The stupidity of this blog never ceases to amaze me.

What's all this wacky stuff about poetry this week? What's poetry ever done to contribute to the bottom line anyway? Blake sounds like a troublemaker to me. I say stick all the artsy types in a private prison and make em work for their feed.

But don't get the wrong idea. I can be just as poetic as the next guy. Here's a REAL poem for you:

There once was a rooster named Denny
who had an enormous BIG hen-ny
He said "She's with me!" and he shouted with glee
"Now let's let the good times begin-ny!"

Now that's poetry. And you know what? Huh? It's all true. Check out the picture. The little handsome sensitive guy is me. And see what's beside me? Yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about. That's one BIG hen. And did I mention SHE'S WITH ME! Yowza.
Talk about life imitating art...

That's the beauty of the market.

And that's the truth. You bet your cloaca.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 21, 2006

BLAKE'S "LONDON," CONCLUSION



Caption: Blake's poem points out that innocent young things like these baby peacocks can suffer from the actions of others.

This is the final post in a series about William Blake’s poem “London.” If this is your first visit to Goat Rope, please scroll down to see earlier entries in this series.

The final stanza of “London” shows Blake to be a critic not only of economic exploitation but of oppressive gender relations:

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.


He viewed the institution of marriage as it existed in his time as repressive and often based on wealth, status and position more than love. (Consider for example the ruthless financial calculations that take place in most of Jane Austen’s novels.)

Prostitution for Blake was thus not only a matter of desperate plight of many poor women but was the shadow side of an often loveless institution. In this stanza, the youthful Harlot passes on the diseases contracted while plying her trade from the husband to the wife and ultimately to the unborn child.

Blake has an astoundingly modern, even ecological or epidemiological, view of how interconnected people already were over 200 years ago. That insight is even more valid today. We like to take the comfortable view that things that affect one group of people somewhere else will have no effect on us. As the world continues to shrink, this is a delusion we can no longer afford.

In four short stanzas, he probably said more for his time and ours than many others did with volumes.

We need to pay attention to the things we’d rather ignore. That’s at least one take home message from "London." And the take home message from this week’s Goat Rope is this: however you try to make sense of the world, don’t forget the poets!

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 20, 2006

BLAKE'S "LONDON," IV, SWEEPS AND SOLDIERS


Caption: This fuzzy chicken would make a good chimney sweep but she wouldn't stay white very long.

This is the fourth post in a series about William Blake's poem "London" and how poets are often best social scientists. (If this is your first visit to Goat Rope, please scroll back to the last three posts.)

In the third stanza of “London,” Blake moves from the general to the specific in his indictment of injustice and of those who ignore or profit by it:

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.


Chimney sweeps were poor children, sometimes but not always orphans, who were sold into service to master sweeps at an early age, sometimes as young as four. They were compelled—by fire, pinpricks, pole prods or threats—to climb naked up chimneys, some of which were 9 inches wide or less. Often, they worked naked.

After only a little of this, their bodies were burned, cut, scraped and scarred. They typically suffered bone and spinal injuries and deformities as well as eye inflammations and respiratory infections and were particularly prone to cancer of the scrotum, assuming they weren’t killed or crippled from burns, falls, and/or suffocation. If they survived their time of service, the sweeps’ bodies were often ruined for any other kind of employment and they had no chance to learn any other marketable skills. (See Blake by Peter Ackroyd.)

Blake frequently writes of the sufferings of the sweeps. In this poem, he condemns the indifference of the Established Church to the sufferings of the poor. The phrase “Every blackning Church appalls” probably meant that this indifference covers the church with the kind of shroud that usually covers dead things, as in “pall bearer.”

Soldiers in the British army at that time were typically recruited from the poorest classes of society. Discipline could be brutal and routinely involved flogging with a cat-o-nine-tails. Officers came from the propertied classes and regarded the rank and file as property in this period.

As mentioned in a previous post, during Blake's lifetime, British soldiers fought and died in several imperial conflicts, including the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, and the wars of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic era. He believed that the sufferings of the soldiers in colonial ventures accused and condemned the wealthy elite who sent them to fight.

Probably the strongest image in the poem deals with their plight:

And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.


Whose walls would the blood of soldiers run down today?

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 19, 2006

BLAKE'S "LONDON," III: CHARTERING NATURE, MANACLING MINDS



Caption: This stream hasn't been too charter'd...yet.

This is the third post in a series about William Blake's "London" and how poets often reveal more about society than an army of statisticians or pundits. If this is your first hit, please consider scrolling to the last two entries, particularly the poem itself in yesterday’s.

Blake’s "London" is a comprehensive critique of what theologian Walter Wink called the Domination System of his day. The Domination System consists of the intertwining of political oppression, economic exploitation, and ideological justification.

The Domination System of Blake’s time was a little less brutal than that of the Roman Empire, just as that of the United States today is a less brutal than Blake’s. But some things abide…

The grip of the system makes itself felt in the opening lines:

I wandered thro’ each charter’d street
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow…


What Blake called “charter’d” we might call “incorporated” or bureaucratized today. To be chartered is to be regulated by an alien and impersonal power indifferent to the well being of human individuals. He was acutely aware of the historical connection between the “conquest” of nature and the conquest of other people.

What was once a free flowing river becomes “the charter’d Thames.” Today, many of the mountains in El Cabrero’s beloved state of West Virginia are being “charter’d” to the point of non-existence due to the mountaintop removal mining methods of absentee coal companies. Most of the Everglades have been charter’d for some time now, just as people are now in the process of chartering the rainforests. Come to think of it, much of the earth is pretty well charter'd.

In the poem, the effects of chartering on people is just as violent. The poet finds in every face “Marks of weakness, marks of woe.”


“In every cry of every Man
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.”


The manacles are those of ideology by means of which people come to accept their lot in a given social order. In general, systems of inequality don’t maintain power solely by violent means but as much as possible try to make people accept social conditions as natural by means of education, socialization, and propaganda.

The great African American educator Carter G. Woodson—who incidentally had significant and positive West Virginia connections—summed it up best:

If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.


As Dostoevsky wrote in Crime and Punishment, “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel.”

Next time: Chimney sweeps and soldiers

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 17, 2006

TO SEE THE WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND: WILLIAM BLAKE'S "LONDON," II



Caption: This man's face shows "marks of weakness, marks of woe."

This is the second post in a series about English poet William Blake's "London." It is an outstanding example of how poets can sometimes get it better than statisticians. This poem was published in Songs of Innocence and of Experience in 1794.

It is a poem about the city in a period of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and international warfare (Blake lived through the Seven Years War, the American and French Revolutions, and the Napoleonic wars). Many rural families were displaced from ancient dwellings as wealthy landlords enclosed the common lands to raise sheep for the growing textile industry.

Casualties included children like the chimney sweeps sold into virtual slavery for all their short lives, soldiers from impoverished families forced to fight in wars for imperial gain (good that that doesn’t happen any more, huh?), and young women like the youthful harlot in the poem who were driven into prostitution.

As it developed, the growing commercial society not only inflicted its violence on nature and the bodies of the dispossessed but within their minds as well:

LONDON

I wandered thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg-d manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.


Next time: charter’d streets, charter’d Thames, mind forg’ed manacles.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: CHARTER'D

TO SEE THE WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND: WILLIAM BLAKE'S "LONDON"



Caption: Seamus McGoogle is also a mystical poet.

It is not yet a crime in El Cabrero’s beloved state of West Virginia to impersonate a sociologist, so I sometimes teach an off campus evening class out in the hinterlands.

Usually that means going over the basic qualitative and quantitative research methods of the social sciences, but I try to point out that often the poets can sometimes get it better than an army of statisticians. A case in point is the visionary and mystical English poet and artist William Blake, who lived between 1757 and 1827.

In Blake’s case, the term visionary can be taken literally. At various points, he saw visions of God, Jesus, dead people, angels, devils, little people, and even the ghost of a flea (I dare you to Google that image). If he lived today, he may well have wound up either institutionalized or heavily medicated. Lucky for us, he didn’t.

While some of his work is obscure and opaque, many of the poems are as simple as a nursery rhyme and as sharp as a razor. If you haven’t done it before, drop everything (after carefully catching up on the Goat Rope) and get a version of Songs of Innocence and of Experience with both the artwork and poems.

I’ve often used excerpts from that work in GED classes in rural West Virginia where people immediately latched on them across the divide of more than 200 years and 3000 miles. Hardened people have been moved to tears by his poems about young chimney sweepers and found their own experiences echoed in poems like “The Sick Rose” or “The Garden of Love.”

In the poem “London,” Blake packs as much social critique of the industrial revolution and its casualties into four stanzas as did any number of anonymous pamphleteers or Dickens in all his novels or Marx in three dense and often unreadable volumes of Capital. And Blake’s hold up better over the years…which will be the subject of the next few posts.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED