The Scene

About The Scene: How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry?


How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry?

September 13, 2017

Who knows? I know the difference when I see it, ok? But I do see a clear distinction between radical, innovative, avant garde, experimental (or whatever label you want to use) poetry and what I usually call genteel poetry. I mean, most of the radical poets of the past are in the big canon taught in schools nowadays, so that’s no longer a distinction. I’ve taught courses on the Beat Movements a number of times.

Yes, I have great respect for genteel poetry and, again, have written about genteel poets plenty of times. And I encourage to you follow my Literary Life blog where I separate out the genteel from the radical somewhat. More than that, though, let’s read the genteel poets radically.

Generally, the distinction is most often made on the basis of the poetic tradition itself. In American literature we usually distinguish the formal, genteel, tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and his successors with that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and their successors. Obviously lines are blurred all the time and even the common dichotomy of the two traditions is often disputed.

But I am going to maintain a bold claim for poetry right now in our own time. Modern and contemporary fiction has virtually caved in to becoming capitalist cheerleaders. Even our best contemporary novelists just as our best filmmakers see their work as market driven. The true literary art forms and artists today are almost exclusively our poetry and poets and some non-market driven plays and playwrights.

Are You Developing a How to Write Poetry blog?

No no no! I just read the stuff. I don’t write it. So I cant tell you how to write it. Well, maybe one bit of advice. Don’t rhyme. Come follow The Scene by hitting the button on this page.

Paul Varner


Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 5

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 5

September 12, 2017


Charles Olson, Ezra Pound, and the Black Mountain College scene

These two poems, “A Newly Discovered ‘Homeric’ Hymn” and “As the Dead Prey Upon Us,” however, do much more than possibly demonstrate Charles Olson’s view of death. The first poem exemplifies Olson’s interest in classical and ancient literature and his influence by Ezra Pound. “As the Dead Prey Upon Us,” which takes the views of “A Newly Discovered ‘Homeric’ Hymn” and develops them further, also shows us Olson’s belief in vision. Although the poem uses a persona, the visionary element coincides with the views of Olson. In a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley in 1965 he said, “I was very lucky once to have what poets call visions. And they’re not dreams . . . . They are literally either given things or voices which come to you from cause.” These poems lack the typical romantic element of visionary optimism. Instead they deal with one of Olson’s central themes—pejoracy. Faced with the dilemma of humanity in the middle of the twentieth century, Olson, in the two poems, has treated his subject first by referring the classical methods of the ancients and then by juxtaposing technological symbolism and mysticism, which synthesizes into a modern apocalyptic vision.

So there you have it. My reading of some of Charles Olson’s poems from The Distances. Pay attention, though, if radical poetry matters to you.

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges by signing up in the box provided.

Paul Varner



About The Scene: What Kinds of Short Posts will You Have Besides Your Longer Major Posts and Commentary?

What Kinds of Short Posts will You Have Besides Your Longer Major Posts and Commentary?


September 11, 2017

Re-Posts: I plan on posting lots and lots of material you need to know about from other places, especially current material. I may have to cut and paste and re-format because WordPress won’t allow bloggers to re-post directly from outside the WordPress network. But of course I will always be mindful of copyright restrictions.

And as much as I keep saying poetry and poetics, we all know that the world of radical art is much more. So I imagine some serious independent filmmakers and really radical fiction writers are fair game. Back with the Beats, I can’t imagine talking about the poets and not acknowledging fellow travellers like Burroughs and Kerouac.

I plan on posting acknowledgements on special dates such as birthdays, death dates, historical events, etc. If you read my other blogs you’ll see similar posts.

And profiles of radical poets.

Or short posts with readings radicalizing the official literary canon from familiar college courses. Hey, haven’t you ever thought about how really radical those Greek playwrights were? Or Homer? Or those Russians like Dostoyevsky. We’ve got radical poets? How about radical readers? You! Follow the Scene in WordPress.

Paul Varner


Amiri Baraka’s 9/11 Poem: Somebody Blew Up America

September 11. 2017

Baraka 2788408

Baraka’s 9/11 poem here may be the most important poem of the later Beat Movement. So controversial that Baraka was reviled after its publication and famous reading tour really until his death in 2014. The poem is offensive to white people on all levels, of course, but what was really over the top were a few lines where Baraka claims 9/11 was a conspiracy permitted by the US government. Of course, now that we have a President who believes that some of that part of the poem doesn’t quite seem to matter anymore. Beyond that, though, this poem almost seems as if it could have been written anytime in the last year or so. Read it. You need it. It looks long but it is no longer than all those You wouldn’t believe what ______ from the 1970s looks like now kind of posts we all click on occasionally.

Somebody Blew Up America Audio

By Amiri Baraka

They say its some terrorist,
some barbaric
A Rab,
in Afghanistan
It wasn’t our American terrorists
It wasn’t the Klan or the Skin heads
Or the them that blows up nigger
Churches, or reincarnates us on Death Row
It wasn’t Trent Lott
Or David Duke or Giuliani
Or Schundler, Helms retiring

It wasn’t
The gonorrhea in costume
The white sheet diseases
That have murdered black people
Terrorized reason and sanity
Most of humanity, as they pleases

They say (who say?)
Who do the saying
Who is them paying
Who tell the lies
Who in disguise
Who had the slaves
Who got the bux out the Bucks

Who got fat from plantations
Who genocided Indians
Tried to waste the Black nation

Who live on Wall Street
The first plantation
Who cut your nuts off
Who rape your ma
Who lynched your pa

Who got the tar, who got the feathers
Who had the match, who set the fires
Who killed and hired
Who say they God & still be the Devil

Who the biggest only
Who the most goodest
Who do Jesus resemble

Who created everything
Who the smartest
Who the greatest
Who the richest
Who say you ugly and they the goodlookingest

Who define art
Who define science

Who made the bombs
Who made the guns

Who bought the slaves, who sold them

Who called you them names
Who say Dahmer wasn’t insane

Who? Who? Who?

Who stole Puerto Rico
Who stole the Indies, the Philipines, Manhattan
Australia & The Hebrides
Who forced opium on the Chinese

Who own them buildings
Who got the money
Who think you funny
Who locked you up
Who own the papers

Who owned the slave ship
Who run the army

Who the fake president
Who the ruler
Who the banker

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the mine
Who twist your mind
Who got bread
Who need peace
Who you think need war

Who own the oil
Who do no toil
Who own the soil
Who is not a nigger
Who is so great ain’t nobody bigger

Who own this city

Who own the air
Who own the water

Who own your crib
Who rob and steal and cheat and murder
and make lies the truth
Who call you uncouth

Who live in the biggest house
Who do the biggest crime
Who go on vacation anytime

Who killed the most niggers
Who killed the most Jews
Who killed the most Italians
Who killed the most Irish
Who killed the most Africans
Who killed the most Japanese
Who killed the most Latinos

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the ocean

Who own the airplanes
Who own the malls
Who own television
Who own radio

Who own what ain’t even known to be owned
Who own the owners that ain’t the real owners

Who own the suburbs
Who suck the cities
Who make the laws

Who made Bush president
Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying
Who talk about democracy and be lying

Who the Beast in Revelations
Who 666
Who know who decide
Jesus get crucified

Who the Devil on the real side
Who got rich from Armenian genocide

Who the biggest terrorist
Who change the bible
Who killed the most people
Who do the most evil
Who don’t worry about survival

Who have the colonies
Who stole the most land
Who rule the world
Who say they good but only do evil
Who the biggest executioner

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the oil
Who want more oil
Who told you what you think that later you find out a lie

Who? Who? Who?

Who found Bin Laden, maybe they Satan
Who pay the CIA,
Who knew the bomb was gonna blow
Who know why the terrorists
Learned to fly in Florida, San Diego

Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion
And cracking they sides at the notion

Who need fossil fuel when the sun ain’t goin’ nowhere

Who make the credit cards
Who get the biggest tax cut
Who walked out of the Conference
Against Racism
Who killed Malcolm, Kennedy & his Brother
Who killed Dr King, Who would want such a thing?
Are they linked to the murder of Lincoln?

Who invaded Grenada
Who made money from apartheid
Who keep the Irish a colony
Who overthrow Chile and Nicaragua later

Who killed David Sibeko, Chris Hani,
the same ones who killed Biko, Cabral,
Neruda, Allende, Che Guevara, Sandino,

Who killed Kabila, the ones who wasted Lumumba, Mondlane,
Betty Shabazz, Die, Princess Di, Ralph Featherstone,
Little Bobby

Who locked up Mandela, Dhoruba, Geronimo,
Assata, Mumia, Garvey, Dashiell Hammett, Alphaeus Hutton

Who killed Huey Newton, Fred Hampton,
Medgar Evers, Mikey Smith, Walter Rodney,
Was it the ones who tried to poison Fidel
Who tried to keep the Vietnamese Oppressed

Who put a price on Lenin’s head

Who put the Jews in ovens,
and who helped them do it
Who said “America First”
and ok’d the yellow stars

Who killed Rosa Luxembourg, Liebneckt
Who murdered the Rosenbergs
And all the good people iced,
tortured, assassinated, vanished

Who got rich from Algeria, Libya, Haiti,
Iran, Iraq, Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine,

Who cut off peoples hands in the Congo
Who invented Aids
Who put the germs
In the Indians’ blankets
Who thought up “The Trail of Tears”

Who blew up the Maine
& started the Spanish American War
Who got Sharon back in Power
Who backed Batista, Hitler, Bilbo,
Chiang kai Chek

Who decided Affirmative Action had to go
Reconstruction, The New Deal,
The New Frontier, The Great Society,

Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for
Who doo doo come out the Colon’s mouth
Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza
Who pay Connelly to be a wooden negro
Who give Genius Awards to Homo Locus

Who overthrew Nkrumah, Bishop,
Who poison Robeson,
who try to put DuBois in Jail
Who frame Rap Jamil al Amin, Who frame the Rosenbergs,
The Scottsboro Boys,
The Hollywood Ten

Who set the Reichstag Fire

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?

Who? Who? Who?

Explosion of Owl the newspaper say
The devil face cd be seen

Who make money from war
Who make dough from fear and lies
Who want the world like it is
Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national
oppression and terror violence, and hunger and poverty.

Who is the ruler of Hell?
Who is the most powerful

Who you know ever
Seen God?

But everybody seen
The Devil

Like an Owl exploding
In your life in your brain in your self
Like an Owl who know the devil
All night, all day if you listen, Like an Owl
Exploding in fire. We hear the questions rise
In terrible flame like the whistle of a crazy dog

Like the acid vomit of the fire of Hell
Who and Who and WHO who who
Whoooo and Whooooooooooooooooooooo!

Copyright (c) 2001 Amiri Baraka. All Rights Reserved.

About The Scene: You Know Me

You Know Me


September 8, 2017

I can hear you saying:

Ok, you’ve written and published a lot about radical poets before, but who are you, Really?

Well, I’ve got pages posted at the top of The Scene with my semi-informal biography and with personal notes about why I ever got interested about The Beats.

But other than that, you know me. I’m just a writer like others all of you know. I’m the guy you always see at coffee houses over in the corner writing furiously in my black Moleskine, dressed like a writer with funny glasses and wearing clunky boots. You’ve seen me everywhere. Don’t expect me ever to look up unless you come over and say hi. Then I’ll tell you what I’m writing about. Of course I may be writing about you. But anyway—you know me.

I’m going to use a similar voice to Ezra Pound in his ABC’s of Reading and Robert Peters in his Great Poetry Bake-off series. I will be personal, confident, not angry or anything, but not academic and not full of jargon theory. I’m not going to feel any need to back everything up everything I say and believe with hard evidence or whatever. Editors, critics, and peer reviewers like that sort of thing. But, you know, the Enlightenment was supposed to have gone out of style when the Romantics came on THE SCENE. I also ramble a lot. So follow The Scene on WordPress by hitting the button on this page. And find me on social media as well.

Paul Varner

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 4

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 4

September 7, 2017

In Cold Hell In Thicket5a204bbf182f5326ac818e1338e4c552

Ok, this post is quite a bit longer than the other ones in this series. But there is no cutting to be had here. Let’s go.

A key line in the “‘Homeric’ Hymn” is “Life/ is not of the earth. The dead are of the earth.” This statement is explained in the first two lines of “As the Dead Prey Upon Us”: “As the dead prey upon us/ they are the dead in ourselves.” The dead are in ourselves as spirits. The outward self is the “net of being.” This opening stanza sets the stage for the tenseness of the pejorative apocalyptic vision that follows. The work is a more developed vision of death than “A Newly Discovered ‘Homeric’ Hymn,” and through its tension achieves the effect of Olson’s kinetic energy theory that is detailed in “Projective Verse.”

It is through a close call with death in the form of an automobile wreck that the speaker transcends the material world for a revelation of wisdom. He is able to see humanity and its destiny through the vision. The actual instrument of his vision is his mother who is dead but who comes back into his life to sit on her rocker under the lamp. The speaker sees dead souls wandering around the living room. When he questions their presence the vision abruptly changes to a collage of technological gadgetry:

And the whole room was suddenly posters and presentations

of brake linings and other automotive accessories, cardboard

displays, the dead roaming from one to another

as bored back in life as they are in hell, poor and doomed

to mere equipments….

Here is the first of many statements on the decadence of society as a result of technology. Along with this is the motif of the “net of being.” This net is humanity’s physical life as it has made it. We are trapped in our shells of existence. In order to escape we must “disentangle the net of being.” Thus the true hell is for it is equated with the mother’s living room, which is a material manifestation.

The vision itself is divided in two elements, which are interspersed throughout the narrative sequence. The first deals with the pejoracy of the material level of existence itself. The symbol of the oppression of natural “man” by technology is the blue deer and the Native American woman (Remember this poem is from the ‘60s, thus the language):

and the Indian woman and I

enabled the blue deer

to walk


and the blue deer talked,

in the next room,

a Negro talk


it was like walking a jackass

and its talk

was the pressing gabber of gammers

of old women….

The one symbol of hope, then, in the whole vision is the blue deer, ordinarily an animal swift of foot but now hobbling around like a jackass (clearly a reference to a caricature not the actual surefooted animal). As the speaker despairs of his own life, his descriptions of the animal change to that of a “filthy blue deer.” All hope is lost for humanity in its natural state. The speaker pleads for death: “O my soul, slip/ the cog.” This plea becomes an obsession with the speaker. Technology, which really becomes a manifestation of humanity itself, or the “net of being,” drives the speaker to his death wish.

O souls, in life and in death,

awake, even as you sleep, even as in sleep

know what wind

even under the crankcase of the ugly automobile

lifts it away, clears the sodden weights of gods,

equipment, entertainment. . . .

The second element of the vision concerns the realm of the dead, revealing Olson’s strong Catholic belief in heaven, hell, and purgatory. Hell is constantly equated with both poverty and material existence. The net symbolizes a person’s life. It has a number of knots in it that are described with fire imagery throughout: “each knot is itself its fire.”

The untying of the knot, then, preoccupies the mind:

each knot of which the net is made

is for the hands to untake

and knot’s making.

In addition to the knots in the net, there are five hindrances. In these hindrances perfection is hidden. The five hindrances transcend the physical world and, in fact, affect both realms of existence:

In the five hindrances men and an angels

stay caught in the net, in the immense nets

which spread out across each place of being, the multiple nets

which hamper at each step of the ladder as the angels

and the demons

and men

go up and down….

The obvious reference is to Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28, but here, instead of a vision of encouragement we read a message of gloom.

The five hindrances tie in with the description of purgatory. They keep one from heaven. These sins must be burned away:

O souls, burn

alive, burn now


That you may forever

have peace, have


what you crave

Life is a net that entangles us. These nets are flames of hell. Only through the process of untangling the knots of the net can one enter into purgatory to have the five hindrances burned away.

Our destiny as humans is determined by ourselves. Through our technology we have created our own hell. It is a hell of poverty—the poverty of our humanity. We can, however, reshape our destiny and shoot

through the screen of flame which each knot

hides as all knots are a wall ready

to be shot open by you

The speaker, then, has shaped his destiny, perhaps by his works through the sacraments, and “slipped the cog.” There is no indication that slipping the cog refers to suicide, but it is permanent death, which brings one back to the automobile crash. Did the speaker actually die in the wreck? Whether he died at that time or not he has entered paradise:

I ask my mother

to sleep. I ask her

to stay in the chair.

My chair

is in the corner of the fence.

She sits by the fireplace made of paving stones. The blue deer

need not trouble either of us.


And if she sits in happiness the souls

who trouble her and me

will also rest. The automobile


has been hauled away.

The chair has already been equated with purity and the blue deer has no place in a spiritual existence.

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges by signing up in the box provided.

Paul Varner

About The Scene: Who Do I Want to Keep Up with The Scene?

Who Do I Want to Keep Up with The Scene?


September 6, 2017

I would love to assume an audience of educated readers devoted to the radical claims for poetry and related literature. If you are a poet, you ought to be reading the best poets, the best radical poets that you can find. Let’s find them.

And I would like to develop an audience of poets, scholars, and critics (academic or otherwise) who will dig what The Scene is all about. So hit the follow button and let’s start an online scene about the big Scenes of ZigZag poets and their poetics.

Paul Varner

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